Getting Gas and Skimmers

Gas Pump

Getting Gas and Skimmers

I went to Costco this morning on my way to work as my car was on fumes, so besides the pain of getting reamed by the $3.85 a gallon price tag, it should be a fairly painless task.

I pull up to the pumps just a few minutes after they open and I start the process of getting gas, and the pump notifies me that it is out of receipt paper and do I want to continue. I hit the yes button and notice the service tech making his normal morning rounds, so I give him a quick shout to let him know that the pump was out of paper. I’m going about my business and he comes over with paper and replaces the roll in the pump as I’m filling up. As he was replacing the paper, he and I were making small talk and he said that they have no way of knowing that the pumps are without paper. I notice that when he was done, he peeled off the tamper stickers so he could replace them. As I drove off, I reflected on his comment about there is no way to know if the pump is out of paper, and that made me think that there has to be a better way to protect the pumps from skimmers.

A skimmer is an electronic device that records information from a credit card. These skimmer devices are usually hidden inside a gas pump, but sometimes they are added to the outside of the pump. The external skimmers are generally not as successful as the internal scanners. A scammer who is going to hide a skimmer inside a pump usually has purchased a set of keys from an online source. I have seen several ads online selling keyrings full of soda machines and gas pump keys.


The solution that I thought actually very simple. First things first are to tackle the receipt paper problem. I could say have the pumps email you the receipt, but who wants to type in their email address at the gas pump, I know I certainly don’t and I know I wouldn’t. But how about a light on the outside of the pump that notifies the attendant that the pump is without paper, and then that could wirelessly connect to a control station in the attendant’s booth/store? Then I started to think about the skimmer problem and I immediately jumped into Marine Corps mode without even knowing it and I came up with this solution. The access door to the pump has a sensor on it that triggers when the door is opened. This sensor turns on a light (a different color from the out-of-paper light) on the outside of the pump (it could even be the same light and if that light is on, the pump needs attention). The sensor also triggers an alarm in the control station. And here is where the Marine Corps mentality came into play. The attendant can only shut off the alarm from inside the control station, the alarms are auditable and the attendant must log into a logbook that someone suppressed the alarm and what was wrong with the pump. The supervisor (yeah, I know what is a supervisor) must compare the audit log and the logbook every shift and answer why the alarms were triggered. The supervisor must also inspect each pump that is alarmed.

On the surface, this looks like a ton of work, but you have to figure out the pump likely goes through a roll of paper once a day and besides replacing the paper and paper jams, there shouldn’t be any reason to open the pump on a normal shift. So in theory, the supervisor should not have a ton of extra work to do. Figuring that the attendant and the supervisors are checking the pumps every shift, then you shouldn’t need to worry about skimmers, as the pump would alarm if tampered with, and the alarms are being checked instantly and at the start of a new shift. Problem solved and the end of credit card skimmers on gas pumps.

**NOTE** There wasn’t a skimmer at the Costco pumps. I use Costco, not only for the low price, but they are very vigilant in checking their pumps and tamper seals, plus their newer pumps have a special key on them.

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