Motorists about to pay at gas pumps ahead of the July 4 holiday should ask themselves a question, the Secret Service says: Could I get defrauded?
The agency announced an effort targeting credit card "skimmers" hidden at fuel pumps to steal financial information — and finances — from unsuspecting motorists. The initiative, unfolding this week ahead of Independence Day travels, has agents inspecting pumps in 21 states.
"The Secret Service is leading the charge to protect the U.S. consumer against this growing cyber-enabled financial crime," the agency said Tuesday in a statement, reporting a Memorial Day effort last month that turned up over 70 such skimmers.
Skimmers are small, electronic devices installed secretly at pumps and able to capture a swiped payment card's protected data, the agency said. Commercial keys purchased online let fraudsters access pumps often left unattended, according to a report from ABC News.
Thieves then return later to retrieve the devices or transmit it remotely via Bluetooth, before using the information to make purchases, Matthew O'Neil, a representative of the agency, told the network.
Fuel pumps became a popular target for skimming because it's relatively easy to hide and retrieve the devices, the Secret Service explained, meaning "making arrests in skimming cases is difficult — but not impossible."
The agency's warning comes as Americans pack up for the biggest July 4th travel period possibly ever, with AAA expecting 45 million-plus Americans to fuel up for trips of 50 miles or more. (And with gas hitting a four-year high, they'll pay at the pump, fraud or not.)
To avoid fraudster, the best advice boils down to this: Pay inside. If that's not an option, Officer John Saenz of Texas' Mcallen Police Department offered tips to KGBT-TV.
"Wiggle the card reader: If there's any signs of tampering, obviously report that to the attendant that's at that location,” he told the station. Look out for removed security strips or other signs of tampering, he said, and opt for pumps closest to the store.
Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner