Dozens of gas pump skimmers were found in the Tampa Bay area during a sweep performed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services before Thanksgiving.
The organization says the number of skimming devices discovered by inspectors more than tripled from 169 in 2015 to 656 in 2017, followed by 1,206 in 2018, 1,555 in 2019, and 1,178 so far in 2020.
“As Floridians prepare for Thanksgiving, criminals will continue scheming to scam you at the gas pump – it’s crucial to know what to look for, because each skimmer can cause up to a million dollars in fraud,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Our Division of Consumer Services is proactive in their aggressive pursuit of skimmers, working every day to identify and remove these fraudulent devices. By following our FDACS consumer tips, you can protect yourself and lessen the chance of falling victim at the gas pump.”
Here were the results of skimming sweeps performed through October and November in our area:
Hernando County: 56 facilities were inspected with two skimmers found and removed.
Pinellas County: 226 stations inspected, with 24 skimmers found and removed.
Others were found across the state including in Orange County, the Panhandle, West Palm Beach and other areas.
According to Commissioner Fried and FDACS, here are five tips for consumers to avoid fraud by gas pump skimmers:
- Look closely at the pump: Avoid using pumps that are open or unlocked, have had the tamper-evident security tape cut or removed, or otherwise appear unusual. If anything seems cracked, loose, or tampered with, use a different pump. Some newer pumps may also have encrypted credit card readers — look for an illuminated green lock symbol near the credit card reader.
- Pay with a credit card: If a credit card number is skimmed, you’re protected by the card issuer’s zero-liability policy — but a stolen debit card number could be far more damaging. If you must use a debit card, choose to use it as credit, instead of selecting debit and entering your PIN. Use a credit card chip reader if it is available.
- Pay inside, not at the pump: It takes just seconds for criminals to place a skimmer in a gas pump — but it’s far less likely that a skimmer has been placed on the payment terminal in front of the clerk inside the gas station or convenience store. Take the few extra minutes to pay inside with cash or a credit card to protect yourself from fraud.
- Choose gas pumps closest to the physical building: Don’t use gas pumps out of the attendant’s line of sight, such as those around a corner or behind a building. Thieves placing skimmers are less likely to put them in pumps where the store attendant may catch them in the act.
- Check your card statements: Nearly every credit card issuer offers fraud alerts, and many will email or text you when your card is used at a gas station. Check your credit card and debit card transactions regularly to make sure no fraudulent activity has occurred. Consumers who suspect their credit card number has been compromised should report it immediately to authorities and their credit card company.
You can report skimmers by contacting FDACS, as all consumer complaints will be investigated. To file a consumer complaint, click here or call 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (for Spanish speakers).