Opinion: The Key to Blocking Dispenser Skimming

Why locks—not security tape—will keep your pumps and customers safe

WEST NEWTON, Mass. -- As a security consultant, I can’t help looking for security weaknesses, especially when those weaknesses might threaten my own security. I am often surprised by the weak and flimsy attempts to protect gas dispensers from credit-card skimming devices.

Often, there is just a low-security keyway, the same one found on dispensers from coast to coast. This key is often called “the universal key” by law enforcement or newscasters, and the “golden key” by skimmer gangs. It is not a master key, which is a high-security key restricted to one company or operation.

I also frequently find the careless use of so-called security tape. Usually, the tape is the worse for wear, faded, with one side flapping in the wind. In that condition, it would be impossible to indicate that the gas dispenser has been opened without authorization. In one example I found, someone had attached a new security tape neatly on the edge of the door. No one even noticed the leftover pieces of the previous sticker, which would at least show where to put the tape.

But the problem isn’t with the security tape; it’s with the person doing the taping. How many managers or owners delegate this important security task to a low-level employee? And then the manager fails to even follow up. But let’s assume that the tape is applied correctly. Now you’re safe, right? You’ve blocked guys who use wireless transmitters to steal data to sell in bulk on the “dark web.” Do you think that they might be able come up with a way to hide their intrusion? Of course.

Data thieves are smart and probably know how to re-create your security sticker on a basic laser printer. They remove your security tape and attach a counterfeit. So even if you do it right, you can still lose. In fact, they don’t even need a printer. They can order security labels on the internet for $69 a roll.

Even if used and monitored properly, security stickers and cameras can only indicate that an intrusion has occurred. A broken seal means you’ve been skimmed. Does an organization capable of inserting and monitoring a Bluetooth transmitter in a gas dispenser not know how to fabricate counterfeit tape?

Stronger Measures

It is time to promote stronger measures to keep out skimmers, because data theft continues at an accelerating pace. The only way to make certain that your dispensers are secure is with a pick-resistant security lock with a key code unique to your business. You don’t stop skimming with tape; you stop it with hardware.

Security locks offer significant cost benefits for small and large operators. They are much less expensive than replacing a dispenser or installing an alarm. If you select the right brand, you can even install the locks yourself.

Even if you choose to install an alarm or surveillance device, the first step should be to secure the door with a pick-resistant keyway and duplication-resistant high-security key that only you and your authorized personnel can access. When I see a cheap lock on a gas dispenser, even if the tape looks secure, I usually skip the gas, buy a Slim Jim and drive down the road to a more secure location.

Shop around. Deal only with a company with a proven history of manufacturing security locks and hardware for a range of industries. Ensure that you can easily replace your shipper locks and retrofit your dispenser yourself. Select a lock with a simple retrofit kit, millions of registered key codes and non-duplicable key style.

Once the lock is installed, your security, your company’s reputation and your customers’ data will no longer depend on flimsy tape or a casual employee.

Rich Morahan writes frequently on security and marketing for the petroleum and propane marketing and self-storage industries. 


More from our partners