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VERIFY: Can your phone's Bluetooth detect card skimmers at the gas pump?

A tip making the rounds on social media claims your smartphone can help protect you from theft. But does it really work?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — People in West Michigan, and across the country, have fallen victim to identity theft because of credit and debit card skimmers.

Crooks fit them into gas pumps, and automated teller machines, to steal your card information and money.

But lately, people have been posting on social media about a potential new way to detect those skimmers.

13 ON YOUR SIDE's VERIFY team found out if it really works. 


Q. Can the Bluetooth sensor on a mobile phone detect some types of card skimmers? 

A. Yes.

Q. Are all skimmers Bluetooth? 

A. No. 


John Hey, chief operating officer of Trivalent Group, a Michigan based IT company.  


To answer the first question about using your phone’s Bluetooth to detect skimmers, our expert, John Hey, said it only works for the type of skimmer that transfers data using Bluetooth. 

“The skimmer itself is going to collect the data the same way that an older type of skimmer would," Hey said. "But with the Bluetooth, that bad actor can be sitting in their car 50 feet away and receiving information from the skimmer.”

Bluetooth is a more sophisticated method, which answers our second question. Not all skimmers are Bluetooth. 

“The old kind, the bad actor had to put the skimmer in the pump, so you had to break the seal and tamper with the pump," Hey said. "But then it downloaded to an SD card or USB key or whatever else, and you had to go back to the pump to get the data.”

If you want to take a look the next time you’re paying at the pump, go to your phones setting and select "Bluetooth" to scan for devices. 

"It's going to be this long string of letters and numbers, 16 to 20 characters long," Hey said. 

Just understand it’s not going to find all types of skimmers, and might detect other completely innocent devices.

“If you do the scan and you see something that is not obvious, it's not a speaker, or headphones, or your car or whatever else, err on the side of caution," Hey said. "Just go to a different pump and make sure it's clean, or a different gas station... It's not likely you're going to find something, but it's possible.”

There are also apps, created to help you locate skimmers, which can be more user-friendly than just your phone’s Bluetooth alone. 

Although this is a pretty fascinating way to detect skimmers, our IT expert said you’re probably better off just looking for signs of physical tampering at the pump, and staying in well-lit areas close to the store. 

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