ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Putting your money at risk, skimmers are targeting gas stations across Tampa Bay. Now some gas stations are fighting back with security upgrades.
52 gas stations from Pasco County through Collier County are getting new unique key dispenser locks to stop thieves from stealing your credit card number at the pump. They're also upgrading their security systems in the area around the gas pumps to get a clear view of each pump. The stations are all managed by fuel supplier Risser Oil Company in Pinellas County's Feather Sound area.
But why aren't more stations required to add extra security measures to keep your credit card information safe from skimmers? Gas stations aren’t required to have anything more than a sticker seal, which breaks if thieves tamper with the pump. Yet, that could soon change. A bill is making its way through the house that would require other stations to make similar upgrades and punish online sites that sell the skimmers to thieves legally.
Guillermo Cuevas is one of several consumers who feels violated. Two weeks ago somebody used his credit card number to charge $90 in gas at a station in North Tampa.
“I’ve never even been to north Tampa," Cuevas explained, "I just moved here from Washington DC.”
Luckily his bank caught on quick and canceled the card before the thief ran up more charges.
“You never know when you’re safe, but you always have to trust that where you go is a safe location,” he added.
The Feather Sound Shell station, where Cuevas used his card, is now taking big steps to increase safety.
The station on Ulmerton Rd. reached out to its customers on Next Door telling them they "wanted to apologize to anyone who had their credit card number skimmed" after several neighbors complained about having their credit card numbers stolen, although St. Petersburg Police have no record of a skimmer being found and reported at the station.
Now, the Shell station is making it harder for thieves to bust into the locks on the pumps with unique keys for each pump, so thieves can’t get in using a universal key. Within the next two weeks, they’ll install cameras to monitor each and every pump.
“I’m glad they’re doing something about it. We've got to be able to trust when we come here we can pump gas and not get ripped off. That’s helpful,” said Rob Copenhaver, who recently bought several Shell gift cards to use instead of his debit/credit card at the pump. He also has a message for the thieves, “You better knock it off or we’re coming for you.”
Both Pinellas and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office leaders say the real trouble is that thieves are getting very stealthy. Some are now using Bluetooth to tap into your credit card without having to get their skimmer back from the gas pump. That makes it challenging for gas stations to stay ahead of the technology being used by thieves.
The Department of Agriculture Consumer Services has found about 400 gas skimmers within the past two years at Florida gas stations. Typically people lose about $1,000 every time their credit card number is stolen and each skimmer can hold about 100 credit cards.
Here's some tips for avoiding credit card skimmers:
Pay cash or pay inside the station
Pull on the area you insert your credit card to make sure it is on securely
Check the security tape to make sure it is intact
Choose a pump that's closer to the store, where thieves are less likely to target
Run your debit card as a credit card so thieves can't get your PIN number