Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is urging Floridians to be mindful of attempts to steal personal information through gasoline pumps across the state.
More than 1,200 credit card skimmers were removed from Florida gas stations over the past year according to Fried, whose agency also oversees the Department of Consumer Services.
“It’s an inconvenience to consumers. It is something that is taking money out of consumers’ pockets. I know that personally, I have had my credit cards shut down three times because of something like this down in South Florida. It’s something we all need to be working together to solve.”
The use of illegal devices, which collect consumers’ credit or debit card information, has increased dramatically in recent years. If undetected, Fried says each skimmer is capable of collecting data from hundreds of victims.
“Each skimmer has [the] potential of a $1 million impact, which means $1 million that’s being taken away from our consumers; and we must make a stop of this,” said Fried. “Which is also why we have filed a bi-partisan piece of legislation to stiffen some of the penalties and start a skimmer task force.”
Fried contends many of the skimmers are part of much larger organized crime rings in the state. Tips for drivers to avoid becoming a victim include choosing gas pumps closest to the store; and inspecting the pumps closely before starting the purchase.
“Make sure you’re looking at the actual pump itself; we have tapes on some of the gas stations, so if there is, in fact, any tampering with any of the pumps and your credit card goes into – please don’t use that gas station pump.”
She adds that it’s best to pay with cash or credit card – but not a debit card.
“Your credit card companies have already built-in fraud protectors inside of it,” Fried says. “You have an opportunity to cancel any of those purchases; your debit cards do not. Each credit care company has fraud awareness protection apps on their devices that you can sign up for.”
“What we’re able to do now currently is we collect and gather [skimmers]; we communicate with our state partners as well. We get them sent off to labs and get them processed for evidentiary purposes,” said Mike Whitman, Chief of Investigative Services for the Department of Agriculture. Upon conviction of using a skimmer, there are a number of penalties set out by Florida law.
“Typically, from third-degree felonies all the way up to first-degree felonies,” Whitman said. ”Depending on what exactly was observed, what was found and what the individual actually did when he placed the skimmer into the pump – credit cards involved, the amount and the number of credit cards. But they’re all felony crimes for the most part.”
But the number of pumps at a gas station, says Whitman, isn’t really a factor.
“It ranges anywhere from the stations that have eight to 10 pumps at them, to the mom-and-pops that have two pumps," Whitman said. “As far as trend analysis and things like that, they’re not being very particular. It’s just where they can install [skimmers] they’re going to install them.”
Those who feel they’ve been scammed by a gas skimming machine can call the Department of Consumer Services complaint hotline – 1-800-HELP-FLA, or go online to www.floridaconsumerhelp.com.