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Clear Loss

Claim:   Gasoline purchasers who fail to press the "Clear" button after refueling risk additional charges subsequently appearing on their credit/debit cards.

FALSE

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, May 2008]

Jim just told me about something that happened to one of his coworkers. She used her credit/debit card to purchase gas at the pump (like most of us do). She received her receipt like normal. However, when she checked her statement, there were 2 $50 charges added in addition to her purchase. Upon investigation, she found out that because she did not press the 'clear' button on the pump, the employee inside the store was able to use her card to purchase his/her own gas!

To keep this from happening, after you get your receipt, you must press the 'CLEAR' button or your information will be stored until the next customer inserts their card. Be sure to tell all your friends/family so that this doesn't happen to them!
 

[Collected via e-mail, February 2010]

A friend just told me about something that happened to one of his coworkers. She used her credit/debit card to purchase gas at the pump (like most of us do). She received her receipt like normal. However, when she checked her statement, there were 2 $50.00 charges added in addition to her purchase. Upon investigation, she found out that because she did not press the 'clear' button on the pump, the employee inside the store was able to use her card to purchase his/her own gas! To keep this from happening, after you get your receipt, you must press the 'CLEAR' button or your information will be stored until the next customer inserts their card. Be sure to tell all your friends/family so that this doesn't happen to them. I had never noticed the clear button but I got gas the other day and sure enough it is there. I shall be using it from now on.
 

Origins:   This heads-up about pressing the 'clear' button after purchasing gasoline at a pump using a credit or debit card began appearing in inboxes in early May 2008. Those in the know say there's nothing to this notion that pressing the 'clear' button after refueling will safeguard the pump's user from having his credit card accessed by future users, or indeed, have any other effect. As W. Michael Hardin, an employee of Dresser Wayne, a manufacturer of gas station fuel dispensing units, says: "If a fuel dispenser is operating in its normal mode, the way it was designed to work, your transaction is complete as soon as you hang
up the nozzle. There is no need to do anything else at that point or press any buttons. If for some reason you hang up the nozzle incorrectly, and the transaction does not complete, a receipt will not be printed, which would be an indication that something is wrong."

In other words, a properly functioning gas pump will conclude its transaction when its nozzle is returned to its cradle. There is no magic to be had from pressing the 'clear' button: a gas pump that is working the way it should will have already closed the transaction by that point, and a misfunctioning one isn't going to be prompted into righting itself by your mashing the 'clear' button a few times. Look instead to your receipt. That the pump dispensed one after you recradled the gas nozzle is a sign that all went well. If a receipt does not present itself, a trip inside the gas station to discuss the matter with the clerk on duty is in order.

Some have been taken in by the false alert, such as the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office which was moved to post the warning on its web site. (That office did subsequently post a retraction which set the matter straight.)

While some dishonest gas station employees have run additional charges through customers' credit and debit cards, this form of crime is usually a matter of the miscreants' charging some cards two or more times to cover for other fuel purchases paid in cash (which was pocketed by the thieving employees, with the false charges laid against the credit or debit cards of victims used to account for the decrease in the station's fuel inventory). In May 2008, two employees of a Hopatcong gas station in New Jersey were caught and charged with theft for attempting to run such a scheme.

However, a far more likely threat to the sanctity of one's credit or debit card at a gas station is posed by those who, during the process of refueling their own vehicles, surreptitiously affix 'skimmers' to card-reading mechanisms at gas pumps. (Skimmers collect data from the magnetic strips of cards, information which is later copied to counterfeit cards and used to empty bank accounts or to run up charges against credit accounts.) After installing the skimmers, the thieves quietly withdraw and return later to retrieve their data-enriched devices.

Should you discover you've been the victim of any sort of credit or debit card fraud, contact your bank immediately. The sooner you can get in touch with them, and the more information you can provide about where you used the now-compromised card, the better.

Regarding debit cards, keep in mind that they do not afford users the same level of protection against fraud that credit cards do. As a general precaution, make it your practice to examine your checking account history and balance several times a month rather than waiting for a statement to arrive in the mail. Report lost cards or suspected unauthorized use immediately. (Generally, the faster you report an incorrect or fraudulent charge, the less you will be liable for.) Consider using credit cards instead of debit cards whenever possible because it is often easier to get unauthorized charges reversed from such instruments. Also, having the problem isolated to your credit card rather than your debit card means not having to deal with the headache of bounced checks during the time it takes to get the matter straightened out.

Barbara "credit where credit's due" Mikkelson

Last updated:   11 April 2014

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Sources:

    Mitchell, Lesley.   "Debit Cards Hold Hidden Dangers"
    The Salt Lake Tribune.   10 March 2007.

    Moszczynski, Joe.   "Four More Step Up in Gas Station Credit Scam."
    The [Newark] Star-Ledger.   15 May 2008   (p. 41).