Protect yourself and your money at the gas pump

By Nikhil HutheesingConsumer Reports

More people are losing their debit cards, prepaid cards and even credit cards to thieves who steal their data while they are at an ATM or a gas pump. In the Money Advisers's Ask the Adviser section, a reader asks how best to  protect oneself. Q:  I’m afraid of having my information stolen by gas-pump skimmers. Am I better off using a credit, debit, or prepaid card? —C.C., Coplay, Pa.

A: Electronic “skimmers,” devices that thieves secretly install at gas pumps and ATMs to steal card data and PINs, are a serious problem. The best way to protect yourself is to pay with cash. But if you want to use plastic, make it a credit card. Unlike bank or prepaid debit cards, purchases made with credit cards don’t immediately come out of your checking account or card balance. Instead, you’re billed for them, which gives you a chance to dispute fraudulent charges. And federal protections for credit cards are stronger than for debit cards.

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For more information, read How to protect yourself from credit fraud. For another related story, read CreditSesame's free identity protection come-on.

If you must use a debit card, never type in your PIN. Instead, select the option on the screen that allows you to have your debit purchase processed as a credit-card transaction. It will still be debited from your checking account, but you won’t need to enter your PIN, which is what the bad guys need to withdraw cash from your account at an ATM. Another way to protect yourself is to pay for fuel purchases with a card at the cashier.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in a recent issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

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