JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Americans do everything they can to keep costs down, one area where there continues to be a threat is the gas pump. And we’re not talking about the price of gas — but rather the possibility of identity theft.
It may be something you’ve heard about but often forget when you fill up with gas: the threat of credit card skimmers on gas pumps. Crooks have placed thousands of these devices over the years at gas stations around the state of Florida, and law enforcement continues to fight this problem.
Some customers even told News4JAX that they only buy gas in cash because they’re concerned about skimmers.
“I have been the victim of fraud in terms of my debit card because I have been the victim of fraud. It can happen,” said Natasha Ford. “I try to use cash as much as I can at the gas pump.”
💳 How skimmers work
Skimmers are electronic devices that crooks attach to gas pumps — usually the credit card reader — to swipe credit card information from customers.
News4JAX spoke with Chris Hamer, a local cyber security expert, about how these work.
“It reads the data off the stripe and it possibly encodes your PIN code because there may be a camera up here or in here, or in some cases, records the keystrokes and stores that information in a file,” said Hamer.
He said that usually the skimmers operate with a signal similar to Bluetooth and that crooks will have to stop by within roughly 30 feet of the skimming device to download the stolen credit card information, which will be stored in the skimmer. He said some operate on 3G systems, but those are easier for law enforcement to track and less common.
⛽ 5 things to remember at the pump
Here are five things to do to avoid skimmers if you stop by a gas station:
- Always use the pump closest to the entrance of the gas station. Those pumps are easily monitored by attendants and less likely to have a skimmer placed on them.
- When you use a credit card, choose to run it as a “credit” transaction rather than a “debit” because those fraud claims are easier to contest.
- Give the card reader a tug. Sometimes criminals place false coverings over the card readers, and if it jiggles, that can be an indication the reader has been tampered with.
- Make sure the state’s security sticker that’s on all gas pumps has not been tampered with. If it has been, avoid the pump. They are usually small red stickers that tell you the pump is secure.
- Regularly check your credit card account for any unusual activity. In many of the cases where skimmers have been found, it’s because customers detect unusual activity on their accounts.
📍 Where skimmers have been found locally
There are a lot of skimmers that have been found around the state, including in Northeast Florida.
News4JAX obtained a list of every skimmer found by state officials in Florida since 2020. There have been more than a thousand cases, and in some of those cases, several skimmers have been found.
According to the list, Duval County had 13 found in 2020, 14 in 2021 and one so far in 2022. In 2021, Nassau County had four found. And St. Johns County had seven found in 2020.
For instance, in 2020 at the BP gas station in the World Golf Village area, skimmers were found on seven pumps. Management told News4JAX that since then, they have changed out the pumps.
In Neptune Beach, a former Shell gas station was hit multiple times in 2021. It’s now under new ownership.
And the Star Food Mart in Callahan was victimized, too, last year. The state report reads that it “received a consumer complaint of possible fraudulent activity on credit card from this facility” and “we found (6) six credit card skimmers with #2 pump having (2) skimmers.
📱 How to report skimmers
Law enforcement says to report any suspicion of a skimmer to the gas station, as it harms the business, as well.
If you’re concerned that a gas pump you used has been tampered with, you want to do a few things: tell the manager of the station and also call the state.
The number to report skimmers is 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).