Credit Cards & Gas Stations: Beware New Phishing System

How many people prefer to use credit cards at the gas station? I know I do because it’s much easier than walking inside to pay with cash. Unfortunately, however, using credit cards at gas stations is becoming increasingly dangerous due to phishing technology. Phishing is the act of illegally collecting credit card information and using it to steal an individual’s identity.

No, thieves aren’t looking over your shoulder as you stand at the pump, poised to swipe your card. This scheme is far more efficient and dangerous for the consumer. The gas station phishing system is ingenious because it relies on the inherent weakness of the POS systems built into the gas pump terminal.

When you swipe your credit card at the gas station, the computer records the data stored on the card’s metal strip, making it available for phishing technology used by sophisticated hackers. All they need is a Wi-Fi system and a program that can read the data stored on the POS machines. Data is sometimes stored for several days until it is overwritten by new data, so these criminals aren’t in a time-crunch to retrieve your personal information.

These criminals often wait around in parking lots and attempt to hijack weak network signals. The rest is a simple matter of “guess-and-check” as they look for the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses on which consumers’ data is stored.

Although many gas station chains, such as Texaco and Exxon, are considering beefing up their security where their POS terminals are concerned, very few of these safety measures have yet to be implemented, which means that consumers should beware.

If you’re going to purchase gas at a gas station, it is often better to use a pre-paid debit card or a gas station gift card that doesn’t store personal data, such as your social security number, name and address. When you use a gas station card, you can also accrue points toward free gas and other purchases, which helps the transition easier for some people. Of course, it also means the added hassle of reloading the card whenever you run low, but it beats finding thousands of dollars of fraudulent charges to your credit card.

We also have to realize that gas stations aren’t the end of this phishing scheme. They are easier because they are out in the open, but it will soon be possible for scam artists to access the databanks for other retail outlets, thus increasing the risks to consumers. Once security measures are introduced at gas stations, criminals will move on to easier targets.

If you discover that you have strange charges on your credit card, report the fraud immediately to the police and mention if you used the card at a gas station within the last few months. Although it is almost impossible to determine how the thieves got your information, this can help toward stopping the new phishing trend.

Furthermore, pay attention to the surrounding area when you use your credit card at the gas station. If you see anyone suspicious—particularly anyone with a laptop computer—let the gas station attendant know immediately and let him call the police. It is important for consumers to get actively involved in the fight against phishing scams if we want to have the convenience of credit cards at our disposal.