As we continue through the busy summer travel season, many travelers are squeezing in one last road trip before settling back into fall routines. And when you hit the road, we hope you’re bringing along a credit card that maximizes your rewards every time you stop to fill up at the gas pump.
But those reward-earning pit stops come with a risk: credit card skimmers. Here’s how you can avoid them and protect your card information.
What is a credit card skimmer?
A credit card skimmer is a device added to a card reader to steal your card number and PIN. There are a few different types of skimmers, but most are installed inside the card reader and can be difficult to detect.
How to protect yourself from credit card skimmers
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to avoid even cleverly disguised credit card skimmers.
Look for damage to the card reader
If the card reader looks like it’s been damaged or tampered with, don’t use it. Damage could indicate that someone has added a skimmer to the card reader. Specifically, be on the lookout for readers that are loose or larger than usual, which can indicate that a skimmer has been added.
Use contactless payment
Use a card with a contactless payment option or a digital wallet like Apple Pay. This allows you to skip inserting your card and avoid any skimmers in the card reader. And when you use contactless payment, your information is encrypted, making it difficult for someone to steal.
Pay or use an ATM inside a building
It’s inconvenient to go inside to pay for gas or use an ATM, but card readers inside are generally better protected than card readers outside. Going a little bit out of your way is a small price to pay to keep your information safe.
Use a credit card with a chip
A credit card with a chip is harder to skim than one with just a magnetic stripe, so use a chip card when you can.
And we’re always advocates of using a credit card instead of a debit card, but using a credit card is especially important when it comes to skimmers. Since skimmers can take PINs as well as card numbers, your debit card information is particularly vulnerable. Plus, if your account is ever compromised, your money is safer if you use a credit card than if you use a debit card.
Check your account regularly
In addition to taking these preventative measures, check your account regularly. This will allow you to spot unusual activity and quickly shut down the compromised card.
When you use your card at gas stations or ATMs, be on the lookout for signs of tampering that could indicate a card skimmer is in the machine. Protect your information by using contactless payment, paying inside, and checking your account regularly. With these few extra steps, you’ll keep your dream vacation from becoming a stolen card number nightmare.