Credit Cards

Why you’ll keep swiping your credit card at the gas station


Westend61/Getty Images

Westend61/Getty Images

You’ll continue to swipe your credit or debit card at the pump for some time to come.

Both Visa and MasterCard announced on Dec. 1 they would delay for three years an October 2017 rule meant to push gas station operators to install chip-card readers on their pumps.

The delay means consumers will continue to face increased fraud risks when they pay at the pump. Fraudsters throughout the country have increased their use of credit card skimmers – hard-to-detect devices they attach to gas station pump card readers – to steal card data when customers swipe. When you insert that same card into a chip-card reader, it becomes significantly more difficult to steal and counterfeit credit card data.

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Retailers were the first to make the switch to chip-based card readers last fall after the card-processing networks shifted the liability for fraudulent transactions from the banks to the businesses themselves. Visa and MasterCard said they will delay the liability shift for gas station operators because their switch has proven more complex.

“For instance, in some cases, older pumps may need to be replaced before adding chip readers, requiring specialized vendors and breaking into concrete,” Visa said in a statement on its website. “Furthermore, five years after announcing our liability shift, there are still issues with a sufficient supply of regulatory-compliant (chip card) hardware and software to enable most upgrades by 2017.”

The transition is expected to cost each of the more than 152,000 stations nationwide more than $26,000, for a total cost of $3.9 billion, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.

How to protect yourself

This delay means you have to remain vigilant about your card at the gas station. Some experts recommend you cease paying at the pump altogether; it’s much less likely that credit card readers at checkout have been tampered with.

But if you want to continue paying outside, follow these three rules:

  • Use pumps that are closer to the gas station convenience store. Pumps that are located away from the store itself are favored by criminals intent on installing skimmers.
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card. If your card information is stolen, you’ll generally face no liability for the loss. Laws protecting consumers from debit card fraud aren’t necessarily as generous, and even if you aren’t held liable, you’ll have to wait for the bank to replace the money stolen from your account.
  • Closely monitor your credit card statements, or – better yet – install your card’s app and receive alerts whenever the card is used. That way, you’ll know right away when fraudulent transactions occur.

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Going mobile

This delay also will push off the adoption of any widespread mobile payment technology at gas stations, as Visa acknowledged in its statement: “Chip also lays the foundation necessary for payment systems to support the future of payments, including mobile, biometrics and risk-based authentication.”

Although few Americans today regularly use mobile wallets, they are even more secure than chip cards, which makes the continued lack of retailer acceptance disappointing.

In the meantime, there are a few retailers that allow for mobile payments, including Exxon and Mobil via the Speedpass+ app, which works when you scan a QR code with your phone at the pump.


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