Gas Station Security

I thought about gas station security again when I was filling my tank over the weekend. As I swiped my credit card to pay for gas, I was asked to enter my zip code as usual, but this time, the zip code was masked as I entered it whereas before it was fully visible. The address zip code is another layer of gas station security required in the United States to ensure a credit card user is the rightful owner of the card being used. Our credit card files include our names and addresses among other things which are used by the banks to send us the monthly statements. As such, an address zip code identifies the card holder as the rightful owner who knows about this specific component of the identity. The problem I have with this type of identifier is that not only a zip code can be easily guessed at the pump if the card is stolen, lost and found in the neighborhood, a zip code can also be easily found on the Internet based on the name which appears on the card. Therefore, a zip code is not a secret identifier which is only known to the cardholder. I think the gas station security can be further improved to prevent gas station fraud by requiring a more personal identifier than a zip code.

Gas station fraud has existed for some time and in order to combat gas fraud using another person’s identity, the gas stations started requiring a zip code for approving credit card transactions at the pump not too far back. Gas station fraud in the past included unauthorized cameras and skimming techniques to obtain cardholder information in order to commit gas station credit card fraud. Like I said, a zip code is not the best personal identifier at the pump to validate the identity of the credit card user. As I was waiting for my tank to fill, I could not help but to think about the identity protection limitations of using my zip code to identify me as the rightful owner of the credit card I was using. I thought to myself, how many people can guess my zip code? And, what can I do to prevent credit card fraud at the gas station? The best ideas I could come up with in order to prevent gas station fraud to the extent of my power and given the current conditions were a) use cash only, and b) don’t lose the credit cards in the neighborhood where the zip code is the same as in my credit card files. Nothing prevents identity fraud at the pump more than buying gas with cash, but if we want to use our credit cards at the gas stations while preventing gas fraud and identity theft, we have to make sure our zip code can not be easily guessed until gas station security measures are further improved. And, the only ways to do that is by not losing the cards in the same neighborhood which is unrealistic and, not give away card information which is also unrealistic. Therefore, we are out of control and doomed.

A counterfeit credit card along with a known identifier such as a zip code can easily be used to commit fraud at a gas station. As we have discussed in the past, identity fraudsters must put many pieces of the puzzle together to execute their fraud schemes. Once they are able to extract the credit card information and reproduce the plastic, they will need additional information in some cases to commit fraud such as a code to withdraw cash or a zip code to buy gas. As obtaining various pieces of information becomes difficult, the fraud schemes also become harder to finalize. In the case of gas station credit fraud, even if a counterfeit card is created, or if your credit card is stolen, lost and found, it can not be used to commit gas fraud if the zip code is not known. However, a zip code is one of the easiest personal information to find especially if the cardholder’s full name is printed on the credit card. There are many sites which will gladly and freely provide an address and other personal information based on someone’s name.

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