Consumers need to be vigilant to stop identity thieves

Vigilance is the watchword for consumers these days as thieves try a variety of scams, such as phone calls and emails, to fleece people out of their identities and money. Bartholomew County residents can attest.

An electronic device called a skimmer was detected April 8 inside a gas pump at a convenience store near the intersection of 17th Street and Central Avenue. Such devices are intended to collect information from magnetic strips of credit cards and debit cards, including PINs.

With that information, thieves can run up charges on the credit and debit cards, and withdraw money from accounts, before cardholders suspect anything or are alerted by credit card companies or banks.

Unfortunately, skimmers can be installed easily in gas pumps, and the trend is growing.

Skimming devices started turning up at gas stations in and around Marion County late last year. Since then, reports on the detection of skimmers indicate that thieves are hitting smaller-sized Indiana communities such as Bloomington and Bedford. Since detection of the credit card skimmer at the Columbus convenience store, other such devices have been discovered in the region, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department said.

Criminals and technology are seemingly tied at the hip in utilizing new ways to steal residents’ hard-earned money.

Some convenience stores are taking additional security measures to prevent identity theft by credit card skimmers, but others are waiting for the introduction of more advanced security software. That means it’s really up to consumers to protect themselves.

Good starting points are to check to see if gas pumps appear to be tampered with, be careful not to let others see you type in your PIN, or pay with cash.

Vigilance requires a few extra precautionary steps, but it’s worth the effort to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

How to avoid skimmers

  • Inspect the area near the PIN pad. If something looks out of place, it might be a skimmer.
  • Look at other nearby gas pumps to see if they match the one you are using.
  • Trust your instincts. If in doubt, use another pump or ATM somewhere else.
  • Choose the credit option. When you use your debit card as a credit card, you usually only have to enter your billing ZIP code as verification – which is safer than putting in your PIN.
  • Keep an eye on your account balance and report any suspicious activity immediately.

Source: Security expert Andy O’Donnell for About.com