As people prepare to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is reminding consumers to stay alert to scams at the gas pump. Skimmers are small electronic devices illegally placed inside gas pumps – each has the potential for $1 million in consumer fraud. Because these small devices are often undetectable, it’s crucial that the public is aware of how to reduce risk and protect themselves at the pump.
“During the busy holiday travel season, criminals will be working hard to scam you at the gas pump – it’s crucial that people are aware of exactly what to look out for, because each skimmer can defraud consumers up to a million dollars,” shared Commissioner Nikki Fried.
According to Commissioner Fried and the Department, here are five tips for consumers to avoid fraud by gas pump skimmers:
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. 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 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 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 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 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.
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 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (for Spanish speakers).
Background on Gas Pump Skimmers:
Skimmers — small electronic devices illegally installed inside gas pumps – first began to appear in Florida in 2015 and have grown exponentially since. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Standards regularly inspects gas pumps and analyzes samples of petroleum products to ensure consumers are being offered quality products at a fair measure. 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 and now over 1,250 in 2019 so far.
Skimmers can be undetectable to consumers because of their location inside gas pumps, and have a potential for $1 million in fraudulent credit card charges per skimmer. They range from simple devices that clamp onto internal wiring that criminals must later retrieve, to sophisticated devices that deliver stolen credit card data via Bluetooth and automated text messaging.
For more information visit FDACS.gov/skimmers