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How to use your phone to detect a card skimming device

Posted at 4:22 PM, Jun 25, 2018

A new crop of card skimmers has hit the Central Coast. On Saturday, two men were arrested for allegedly trying to attach a skimming device at a Goleta gas station.

Card skimming at gas pumps and ATMs has become a growing problem. As police are catching on, the devices are getting more advanced.

“It’s something our detectives have been trained for and they proactively check the gas pumps in town,” said Lt. Brian Amoroso, San Luis Obispo Police Department.

A compromised ATM or gas pump can be hard to spot.

“I wouldn’t know the difference unless I saw something different than what I’m usually seeing, which is some sort of gadget… so yeah, I wouldn’t notice,” admitted Caryn Hubbard, a San Luis Obispo resident.

If a skimmer is inside a gas pump, you wouldn’t know it. However, you may be able to check if there’s a skimming device using Bluetooth.

"We have seen devices that have Bluetooth chips in them to where they can remotely, from a couple hundred feet away, retrieve the information so they don’t have to go back into the pump to retrieve the device,” Lt. Amoroso said.

To check if there is a Bluetooth device within the machine, go to your phone’s settings and click on ‘Bluetooth.’ If a string of strange characters or numbers pops up in available devices, that’s likely bad news.

Police say you can also jiggle the card reader or keypad. If it’s loose, it may have been tampered with.

“Or, if the keypad raises up or is not flush with the device or looks different from other gas pump keypads, those would all be red flags,” Lt. Amoroso said.

Check any machine for pry marks and inspect the security seal that is located on many gas station pumps. If the seal is broken, tell a gas station attendant.

Another tip: use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have more consumer protections and it’s too easy to skim a debit card’s magnetic strip.