A New Gas Station Gotcha: 'Sliding'

gas station pump

As if the price of gasoline isn't bad enough, there's a new form of off-the-highway robbery: The theft of valuables from inside your car as you fill your gas tank.

Police call it "sliding" and report a recent wave of incidents across the country.

Although not an actual scam, it sure feels like one. As you fuel your car - likely watching the ever-increasing tally on the pump -  thieves casually "slide" in from the other side to snatch purses, GPS devices or money from open windows or unlocked doors. You may not realize you've been robbed until after you've driven away... as have the crooks.

Watch this video of some sliders in action.

Your defense against sliding is simple enough: Lock doors and close windows. Ensure that car-carried valuables are out of sight. And keep a watchful eye as you pump.

Meanwhile, another ongoing scheme (this one qualifying as a bona fide scam) continues at gas stations: Portable "skimmer" devices, like those used on ATMs, are placed inside pumps to collect debit card numbers and PINs. Then duplicate cards are made so scammers can withdraw cash or make online purchases using your bank account.

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Gas stations make for an ideal skimming site for several reasons:

  • The majority of plastic purchases are made with debit cards - which offer fewer fraud protections than credit cards.
  • There are few manufacturers of gas pumps, so a single key can be used to open many pumps at different stations, allowing crooks to install skimming devices that you can't see.
  • Gas pumps are often unattended, another thing making it easier to install skimmers. Still, some crooks have been known to get jobs as attendants, sometimes working as "moles" for organized crime rings behind this ruse.
  • Although change is underway (in large part because of this crime), older gas pumps use older technologies that don't encrypt PIN codes.

Last month, former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs, writing in his blog, Krebs on Security, under the headline "Don't Get Sucker Pumped," said that a federal indictment detailed how a pair of thieves used skimmers - and a fake PIN pad overlay - to steal $400,000 from motorists who patronized gas stations in Oklahoma.

Miniature spy cameras are also used to glean PIN codes from motorists using real pump keypads.

Your defense here is to use a credit card. But if you use a debit card, choose the "credit" option rather than "debit" so you don't have to enter a PIN. The purchase amount will still be deducted directly from your bank account, but it will be processed through a credit card network, providing greater protection if fraud occurs. Under law, you have  only $50 of liability for credit card fraud. With debit cards, if you don't report an unauthorized transfer or loss within two days, you could be liable for up to $500.  A third option is to simply go inside for a signature transaction with your debit card.

Photo: Hakan Dahlstrom/Flickr.com


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