Officials warn of gas station skimmers during holiday travel

Officials warn of gas station skimmers during holiday travel

Despite the pandemic, millions of travelers hit the road to visit loved ones this Thanksgiving, but criminals are scheming to scam you and steal your hard-earned money.

"Check the thing out beforehand, don't just trust everything," said David Banfi, while at the gas station on his way to Thanksgiving dinner.

Banfi is speaking from experience and says he now takes his time while filling up his car with gas.

"I've been hit by a skimmer before, so I like to make sure to kind of jiggle it around a little bit to make sure it's on there good and tight," Banfi said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is trying to protect consumers by conducting sweeps at gas stations across Florida, on the hunt for skimmers.

In the month of November, FDACS says 34 gas stations were inspected in West Palm Beach, and 15 skimmers were found and removed. In Saint Lucie County, 31 stations were inspected, and eight skimmers were found and removed. Inspections were also conducted from the Panhandle region to Broward County.

"It's not on a lot of people's minds....you're getting gas and going it's not set on their minds," said Matthew Hanahan, who was driving to Texas.

Skimmers illegally placed in gas pumps are often undetected, and FDACS says they have the potential for up to $1 million in consumer fraud. The devices started popping up in Florida in 2015, and the numbers have grown exponentially. FDACS 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.

"I changed my stuff right away just for fear of identity theft," Banfi said. "Try and avoid that quick thinking that autopilot and always think a little bit about everything."

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.

FDACS says if you believe you may have been a victim, consumers should contact them. To file a consumer complaint, visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com [floridaconsumerhelp.com] or call 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (for Spanish speakers).

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