The East Texas Better Business Bureau recently warned citizens in Tyler, Longview and the surrounding area that summer brings an increased risk for theft through credit card skimming. More people travel during the summer, and BBB President Mechele Mills says criminals try to take advantage of vacationing families by stealing their credit card data at the gas pump and other locations. Learn how to spot the danger and protect yourself from theft.

What is Card Skimming?

Card skimming is a type of credit card theft. Criminals can use a device called a skimmer to illegally pull the information contained in the magnetic strip of your plastic forms of payment. They hide the skimmer places you would expect to submit your card for payment like an ATM or gas pump. When you go to pay, the device records your data.

It's possible any time there's a credit or debit card transaction. Sometimes criminals place a small camera at ATMs, so the skimmer records the data on your magnetic strip and the camera captures when you input your PIN number. Retail workers and restaurant wait staff also might participate in this type of theft, using the skimmer when you hand over your card to pay.

After they steal your information, criminals might create a duplicate card and use it to buy items in stores. Sometimes they sell your information online. Often victims don't know what's happening until they receive an overdraft notice or try to make a purchase and their card is declined.

Is Card Skimming Really a Problem in East Texas?

Last year the Tyler Police Department said thousands of East Texans have been victims, with thieves stealing millions. More than 130 skimmers were discovered in Smith County alone in 2017.

How to Protect Yourself From East Texas Card Skimming

East Texas card skimming is most likely to take place at the gas station. Modern skimmers are hard to spot because they're hidden inside the fuel pump. Protect yourself by always filling up in brightly lit areas close to the store. It's harder for thieves to attach skimming devices if pumps stay in view of the cashier inside.

Use the same precaution at the ATM. Only swipe or insert your card in well-lit locations. Before you do, examine the slot to see if there's anything about it that looks out of place. Scan the area for cameras.

Watch for card slot mismatches. If all the plastic accessories on the gas pump or ATM are yellow and the card skimmer is blue, it's possible criminals installed a skimmer over the existing card reader. Look at the other pumps or the adjacent ATMs to compare equipment.

Don't be afraid to jiggle the plastic housing around the card reader. ATM and gas pump equipment is sturdy. It won't come loose. Skimmers might.

Cover what you're doing when you enter your PIN number. Keep criminals from stealing your money by blocking their view with your hand, purse or shoulder. It isn't being paranoid, it's protecting what's yours.

If you have the option, always run your debit card as credit. That way you won't have to enter a PIN, and you have a better chance of being quickly reimbursed if your data is stolen.

The safest option at the gas station and at the bank is to pay inside. Monitor your accounts regularly and notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you find you've become a victim.