RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) - One of the more insidious scams around is the hidden credit card skimmer. The thieves using them are pretty clever about how they hide them to rip you off.
It's a common practice for thieves to place them in pumps at gas stations. North Carolina officials say they've seen a marked increase in the numbers of skimmers found inside gas pumps.
Steve Benjamin, the Director of the Agriculture Department's Standards Division says his weights and measure inspectors "found over 650 gas pump skimmers in 2017, more than double what they found in 2016." And Benjamin tells CBS North Carolina, "I do expect it to increase."
Gas stations are a favorite target of thieves — especially stations that do a high volume of business, allowing thieves to grab a lot of credit card info in a short period of time.
It's invisible thievery, because the devices that steal your credit card information are buried deep inside the gas pump. But some of those devices leave clues to their whereabouts. You just have to be a detective and know what to look for.
Just the other day, a gas station manager in Rocky Mount discovered two skimmers embedded in his pumps.
He turned them over to police who said the skimmers were there less than 24 hours. Even so, Rocky Mount police have issued an alert.
Investigators from the department's financial crimes unit are warning anyone who gassed up at the Rocky Mount Circle K at 1630 Sunset Ave between 8 p.m. on Jan 22 through 1 p.m. On Jan 23 to monitor their financial statements for fraudulent activity.
But, for many drivers, a gas pump skimmer is the last thing on their mind.
"I never thought of it in gas pumps," says Jim Cooper of Clayton. "I always thought about it in (ATMs) or something like that."
There are a couple of ways you can check for credit card skimmers at the pump.
Some can be hidden right in the credit card slot, so give the card reader a tug before you insert to make sure crooks haven't placed a skimmer on top of the device. And, when it comes to the skimmers hidden in the pump, your cell phone can help you be a detective.
That's because some of the skimmers use Bluetooth to broadcast the information they've stolen.
You can safeguard yourself be going to the Bluetooth setting on your phone. If a skimmer is transmitting via Bluetooth, it usually shows up as a long list of numbers and letters in the "discoverable devices" field of your Bluetooth.
Also, if a gas pump has security tape or seals on it, check to make sure they aren't broken. If they have been, it could mean someone tampered with the pump and has placed a skimmer inside to steal your hard-earned cash.
The agriculture department's Benjamin suggests you also never choose the "debit" option at the pump; use the "credit card" option instead.
In North Carolina inspectors now look for skimmers as part of their routine gas pump inspections. Last summer, the department also began a program to train gas station employees on how to properly monitor their pumps for skimmers.
Benjamin said, "We have held three of the training sessions with local law enforcement, station managers and local fuel distributers, with about 100 people so far."
If you want to report a skimmer or other unusual activity at a gas pump, use this link to contact state officials.