Detecting Bluetooth gas pump skimmers with your cell phone

By Elvis Huff on June 17, 2019
5 minute read

Have you heard about gas pump skimmers? Most of us have – those annoying devices that crooks can plant inside the card reader on a gas pump, used to steal card numbers when we insert our card to prepay for our gas at the pump.

The newer model skimmers that the criminals are using are equipped with Bluetooth technology, which allows the thief to easily download all the skimmed card numbers they have stolen.  They just remotely connect to the skimmer, and send the data right to their smart device. This is a very convenient, time-saving feature for the thief.  Without it, they would have to physically retrieve the skimmer – and risk getting caught – before they could download card numbers.

Using Bluetooth technology against the crooks

Skimmers may use Bluetooth technology to transmit the data, but you can also use Bluetooth to fight back. Specifically, you can use your smartphone to detect the presence of a skimmer by looking for odd Bluetooth networks, those that contain random letters and numbers as the Bluetooth network name that may be in the vicinity.

If you find one, you may re-consider using that particular pump and pre-pay inside. You’d also want to let the clerk know of your suspicions.

How do you do this?

When you’re at the pump, simply go into your device’s Bluetooth settings, scan for available Bluetooth networks, and look for an unfamiliar network name with random letters and numbers.

A word of caution

Be warned – using this technique will add some time to your gas fill-up and the information you see may not be 100% accurate in detecting the presence of a skimmer. As an example, your phone might detect an entirely different Bluetooth device with an odd network name. And of course, this won’t help if the criminal’s using an older type of skimmer without Bluetooth capability.

Still, if you see something suspicious on the Bluetooth network list, it’s a good idea to alert the clerk and pay inside. 

What else can you do?

If you have a WBT debit or credit card, a few simple steps can keep your cards well protected. The following apps are free* and easy to use!

  • For debit cards, download the MyCardRules app to receive real time alerts any time your debit card is used. You can even shut the card down from the app!
  • For credit cards, download the SecureLockEquip app to receive real time alerts any time your credit card is used. You can also shut down your card with this app!

*Message and data rates may apply.

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Have another thought, tip or suggestion? Leave it in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

Posted by Elvis Huff

Elvis Huff worked as an officer and network administrator for 12 years with the Lebanon Police Department and has also served as an adjunct professor in information systems at Cumberland University. Read More »

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