Crooks using more sophisticated technology at gas pumps to steal your information

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - ATM's and card readers at gas stations are convenient but crooks can use more sophisticated technology against you and pick your pocket from miles away.

Small card skimmers are showing up more often at gas pumps around the country. Krystal Smith was victim and got hit hard.

"Somehow they got a hold of my credit card and drained my account of 12 thousand dollars in a matter of four days," Smith said.

The U.S. Secret Service estimates about a billion dollars is stolen every year from card skimming. That's about $350,000 a day. In the past two years, the Secret Service has seized or identified 11 card skimmers attached to various gas station pumps around central Alabama.

"Once placed inside a gas pump, they use Bluetooth technology, so they put it inside one time, close it up and then they will come back with a electronic device that is able to download it off the Bluetooth within the pump itself," Robert Holloway, Assistant Special Agent in charge of the Secret Service's Birmingham field office said.

Holloway says more skimmers are popping up because gas stations aren't required yet to install chip readers on the pumps. In other words, gas stations aren't liable right now if your card is compromised.

In an effort to make pumps more secure, credit card companies recently issued a policy that would require gas stations to install those chip readers by 2020. That's three years past the original deadline.

"The industry hasn't quite converted pumps over to those yet. So those chips that you are used to in the grocery store and retail stores where you use the chip instead of the swipe on your credit card, that's the vulnerability," Holloway said.

So how do you protect yourself? Inspect the pump before you insert your debit or credit card. Jiggle the card reader to make sure it's not loose. Inspect the seal as well to make sure it hasn't been tampered with. You can also check your phone's Bluetooth to see if there's a suspicious looking signal. There are also apps that supposedly detect skimmers. You just hold your phone in front of the pump to check for those skimming devices.

"If at all possible, the best thing to do is to actually go inside and use your credit card to pay for it there," Holloway said.

The Secret Service says it could be all about the money when it comes to making gas station pumps more secure. The National Association of Convenience Stores estimates that it could cost a store $30,000 or more to install chip readers at the pumps.

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