ORLANDO, Fla. – Commissioner Nicole Fried took part in a gas pump skimmer inspection to showcase the growing risk of gas pump skimming frauds in Central Florida.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recently finished a statewide skimmer sweep, with 259 skimmers found across the state in recent weeks, 15 of them in the Orlando area alone.
Fried stresses the urgent need for stronger consumer protections.
What is a skimmer
Skimmers are essentially malicious card readers that are attached to real card readers so thieves can retrieve data from every person that swipes their card. The thief often has to come back to the hacked machine to pick up the files containing all of the stolen data. With that information, the thief can create replica cards or break into bank accounts to steal money.
Skimmers first began to appear in Florida in 2015 and have grown exponentially since. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Standards inspects 464,000 gas pumps at 19,000 gas stations, truck stops, and marinas each year, and has removed more than 2,800 skimmers since 2015.
“Florida is known for beaches, oranges, Disney, but also fraud — we are the top state for scams, and we can’t let that continue,” Commissioner Nikki Fried declared. “Since my election, I’ve made fighting consumer fraud and consumer protection top priorities in my agenda – and a big part of that fraud is happening at the gas pump. It’s important we’re sharing with consumers exactly what to look for, because each skimmer can defraud consumers up to a million dollars. We’re here to let Floridians know there’s a lot of fraud out there, but we’re working with law enforcement to crack down on this criminal activity.”
Fried worked with lawmakers during a previous legislative session to address the growing problem.
According to a news release, Senate Bill 1652 and House Bill 1239 were common-sense, bipartisan bills to establish the Consumer Fraud, Identity Theft, and Skimmer Working Group statewide interagency task force -- but the bills did not pass during this year’s session.
Fried intends to see the legislation filed again next year.
Florida has the highest rate of fraud per capita in the country, with $84 million lost to fraud in 2018, which equals about $400 lost per person.
Florida consumers filed 15% of the last 1.4 million fraud reports to the FTC in 2018, while accounting for only 6.5% of the U.S. population.
How to avoid fraud at the gas pump
Take a close look 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. Some newer pumps may also have encrypted credit card readers – look for an illuminated green lock symbol near the credit card reader. Use a credit card -- not a debit 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. Pay inside, with cash or credit, instead of 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 fraudster placed a skimmer on the payment terminal in front of the clerk inside the gas station or convenience store. Choose gas pumps closest to a 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. Check your card statements and sign up for fraud alerts: 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 frequently to make sure no fraudulent activity has occurred.
When in doubt, consumers should contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – all consumer complaints will be investigated. To file a consumer complaint, visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com or call 800-HELP-FLA or 800-FL-AYUDA (in Spanish).