Florida Leaders Target Gas Pump Skimmer Fraud, Need for Stronger Consumer Protections

By  //  May 12, 2019

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Florida has the highest fraud rate per capita in the entire nation

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TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried recently participated in a gas pump skimmer inspection to highlight the growing risk of gas pump skimmer fraud across the state and the even higher level of threat in South Florida.

Over the past two weeks, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has found 156 skimmers in gas pumps throughout the state — marking 588 total skimmers found just five months into 2019.

The data shows that 2019 could surpass 2018 and be the year with the most skimmers found to date.

Joined by Senator Oscar Braynon II (D-Miami Gardens), Representative Shevrin Jones (D-West Park), Commissioner Angelo Castillo (Pembroke Pines), Inspector Ana Perez, Division of Consumer Services, and Lt. Andy Cobb, Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, Commissioner Fried stressed the urgent need for stronger consumer protections.

“Florida is known for beaches, oranges, Disney, but also fraud — we are the top state for scams, we can’t let that continue,” declared Commissioner Nikki Fried.

“Gas pump skimmers are a huge part of that fraud, they’re a problem growing across our state. That’s why I want to do more — I’m committed to protecting your pocketbooks and will get more aggressive against these criminals. Our Department is working every day, focused on protecting the consumer rights and interests, and economic security of all Floridians.”

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This past legislative session, Commissioner Fried worked with lawmakers on bills to develop solutions and take action against the serious and growing problem of skimmers.

Senate Bill 1652 and House Bill 1239 were bipartisan pieces of legislation which aimed to establish the Consumer Fraud, Identity Theft, and Skimmer Working Group statewide interagency task force — however, the bills did not pass during the legislative session.

“I worked with lawmakers to file bipartisan legislation to bring stakeholders together and identify solutions. The goal was to take action on the growing gas pump skimmer problem that has been costing Floridians millions — regrettably the bills did not make it through,” shared Commissioner Nikki Fried.

“Next session, we will be filing these bills again and continue pushing for more solutions and aggressive action against gas pump fraud.”

Florida has the highest fraud rate per capita in the entire nation, with $84 million lost to fraud in 2018, which is about $400 lost per person. Florida consumers filed 15% of 1.4 million fraud reports to the FTC in 2018, but Floridians account for only 6.5% of the population.

Commissioner Nikki Fried and (left to right) Commissioner Angelo Castillo, Lt. Andy Cobb, Senator Oscar Braynon II, and Representative Shevrin Jones stress the urgent need for stronger consumer protections.

“The South Florida metro area is ranked 15th in the nation for fraud, a main source is gas pump skimmers — and the majority of all the skimmers found in our state are found in this area, right here in our communities,” stated Senator Oscar Braynon II. “It’s a shame that the bipartisan skimmer legislation didn’t pass, but I remain committed to working with Commissioner Fried to advance this issue. My constituents shouldn’t have to worry that their credit card information will be stolen every time their gas tanks run low.”

“Gas pump skimmers are a serious and growing problem, especially here in my district and for my constituents — more than half the skimmers found last year were in South Florida communities,” shared Representative Shevrin Jones. “Fraudulent charges cut into important living expenses and make it harder to pay rent and put food on the table — and in an area as expensive as South Florida, gas pump skimmers, and other forms of fraud are a serious issue. I share Commissioner Fried’s commitment to cracking down on skimmers and all forms of fraud.”

“They call gas pump skimmer fraud a victimless crime, but it’s not — all of us end up paying for it with higher credit fees, higher costs at the pump, and more criminal activity,” stressed Commissioner Angelo Castillo. “I want to thank Commissioner Fried for bringing this issue to the forefront and I’m committed to working with her and the Legislature to stamp this fraud out and protect Florida taxpayers.”

Using the gas pumps on the inside lanes also helps to avoid being the victim of credit card fraud from a credit card skimmer.

As we approach the summer, a season with more travel and many tourists, The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services wants to make sure people are aware and know how to protect themselves at the pump. According to Commissioner Fried and the Department, here are five tips for consumers to avoid credit card 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. 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 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (in Spanish).

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Background Information 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 inspects 464,000 gas pumps at 19,000 gas stations, truck stops, and marinas each year, and has removed over 2,800 skimmers since 2015. The Bureau also inspects pumps for safety and accuracy.

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.

Skimmers seized since 2015:

2015: 169

2016: 219

2017: 656

2018: 1,206

2019: 561 (January 1 – May 8)