You can foil sneaky gas-pump skimmers

Driver pays for gas at the pump with debit cardThieves have broken into Tri-Cities gas station pumps recently and attached advanced, stealthy skimmers that steal debit card data and raid bank accounts.

Police say these new devices are very hard to detect since they're inside the pump, attached to its circuitry. Wiggling the card-reader housing to see if it's bogus won't reveal anything amiss.

But you can protect yourself against gas-pump theft by following a simple precaution when paying with a debit card: Press the "credit" button instead of "debit," and enter your ZIP code. That protects your personal identification number (PIN).

Kennewick police note that even when you select "credit" with your debit card, the money still is withdrawn from your bank or credit union account. You won't get a bill from your credit card company.

The Federal Trade Commission offers advice to help gas station owners combat skimmers, such as, "Look for warped or protruding surfaces. For example, card readers and PIN pads not flush with the pump's door panel are a warning sign."

However, for the skimmers found recently in the Tri-Cities, thieves found a way to gain access inside the pump's computer. Nothing appears suspicious externally.

Motorist pays for fuel inside the gas stationThe Federal Trade Commission confirms that using a debit card as if it were a credit card is a legitimate way to guard your bank account. (With credit card purchases, you don't enter your PIN.) Another safeguard is to choose to pay for fuel inside the gas station, rather than outside at the pump.

Check out the FTC's tips, "Avoid skimmers at the pump."

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