TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — A sweep of the Florida Panhandle region, to include Tallahassee, uncovered at least three card skimmers at gas stations, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Wednesday, FDACS announced that they had recently conducted sweeps of gas stations across the state, searching for gas pump skimmers in an effort to protect consumers during the Thanksgiving holiday.
In the month of November alone, the department found 41 skimmers after inspecting hundreds of facilities stretching from the Tallahassee area to West Palm Beach.
Officials said the number of skimmers has grown over the years, more than tripling 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.
Skimmers are small electronic devices illegally placed inside gas pump. According to FDACS, each one has the potential for up to $1 million in consumer fraud. Because these small devices are often undetectable, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried warns Floridians should be aware of how to protect themselves at the pump.
“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 Fried.
Inspectors also performed sweeps in the following areas during the month of November:
- Panhandle region, from Pensacola to Live Oak, including Tallahassee: 121 facilities were inspected, with three skimmers found and removed.
- Sunrise: 28 facilities were inspected with six skimmers found and removed.
- West Palm Beach: 34 facilities were inspected with 15 skimmers found and removed.
- Hernando County: 56 facilities were inspected with two skimmers found and removed.
- St. Lucie County: 31 facilities were inspected with eight skimmers found and removed
Sweeps were also performed in the following areas during the month of October:
- Orange County: 295 stations inspected, with 13 skimmers found and removed.
- Pinellas County: 226 stations inspected, with 24 skimmers found and removed.
- St. Johns County: 45 stations inspected, with two skimmers found and removed.
- Coral Springs: 30 stations inspected, with two skimmers found and removed.
- Plantation: 21 stations inspected, with one skimmer found and removed.
- North Port: 15 stations inspected, with no skimmers found.
Fried also shared the following tips 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.
- Report Skimmers: When in doubt, consumers should contact FDACS, as 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).