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FTC offers tips to avoid getting scammed at the pump

Skimmers are illegal card readers that criminals can hide at places like gas pumps to steal your credit card data. Here's how to stay safe.

The FTC says to examine the card reader itself and compare it to ones on other pumps.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A voided label on the front panel of your gas pump means there might be a skimmer inside.

National Association of Convenience Stores and Conexxus

If you're getting ready for a summer road trip, consider this: It's easier than ever for criminals to nab your credit card data at the gas pump using devices called skimmers.

The Federal Trade Commission released a warning Thursday that skimmers -- devices designed to detect and record credit card information at payment terminals -- are getting smaller, smarter and harder to detect. Some can even be hidden inside gas pumps, making it very difficult to tell that anything's amiss.

The FTC also offers tips for keeping your information safe. For starters, keep an eye out for special seals placed over the front panel of the gas pump. Thieves need to lift that seal to get a skimmer inside the pump. If the seal gets lifted, it'll read "void." If you spot a voided label, don't use the pump and do tell the gas station manager.

Other tips include keeping an eye out for external credit-card readers that look different from the ones at surrounding pumps and using your debit card as a credit card to avoid giving your PIN away. If you can't use your debit card as a credit card, shield your PIN number entry with your hand in case "tiny pinhole cameras" are installed. The FTC also suggests sticking with pumps located closer to the gas station storefront, where thieves might be more worried about getting spotted by a surveillance camera.