Fraudsters Filling Up At The Pump This Labor Day

The final weekend of summer is here — meaning the next few days will be prime time for sunbathing, beer drinking, BBQ eating contests and day trips to the shores. And credit card fraud — particularly at the gas pump because when you steal credit card data for a living, there is no such thing as taking the long weekend off. If motorists are out, the time is ripe for harvesting some card numbers.

But this year gas station owners nationwide are locked, cocked and ready to rock when it comes to fraud and are busting out everything from snappy software to heavy metal padlocks to keep thieves out of the pumps.

What they aren’t using as of yet is EMV. Gas stations (a frequent target of card number harvesters since pumps are usually unattended) will by and large be one of the last groups to make the upgrade to the more fraud-resistant card tech. While most merchants need to be EMV compliant by Oct. 1 of this year to avoid the liability shift, gas stations have until 2017.

“The concern is that this is still a gaping hole that has not been well addressed, and now there are conditions that are going to make it worse,” says Al Pascual, a director of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy & Research, a unit of Greenwich Associates LLC.

Gas fraudsters use a variety of tactics. The most common is skimming, which involves placing a device in a gas pump that skims numbers and other data from user credit cards (more than half of all U.S. gas purchases are made via cards). California law enforcement officials have even begun finding next generation skimmers that text data to thieves in real time as it collects it.

Other tactics include filling up “bladder trucks,” vehicles with large, hidden tanks. Thieves, using a stolen card, can make off with hundreds of gallons of gasoline this way.

Apart from tech being employed by gas station owners, the card networks have started rolling out smart tech that attempts to determine if the person using the card at the pump is the real owner. If too many “risk factors” are tripped, the consumer is instructed to complete the transaction indoors with a clerk, instead of unattended at the pump.

Visa’s version of the gas security program was introduced last year and today includes about 30,000 (20 percent) U.S. gas stations. MasterCard’s program started rolling out last month.

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