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Beware of booking scams, gas skimmers ahead of holiday travel

Gas pump skimmers

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is providing Floridians with tips to avoid travel scams and gas skimmers over the holidays.

In a release, Fried says protection is key while out and about.

“While many Floridians prepare to travel for the holidays, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself and your family from gas skimmers and other travel scams,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried. “There are simple steps, like paying inside instead of at the pump and calling to confirm travel reservations directly, that can greatly reduce your likelihood of falling victim to one of these scams.”

Here are five tips for consumers to avoid fraud by gas pump skimmers:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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). For more information visit FDACS.gov/skimmers

Protecting Against Travel Scams:

Before you hit the road, do some smart travel shopping first, not only to end up with a great trip and a good deal, but also to avoid a scam. Deal with businesses you trust, get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies, and ask “What if…?” And if someone says you’ve won a “free” vacation but need to pay, just walk away.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the following tips for planning a good trip:

  • Get recommendations: Ask family and friends about the companies they use and like and look online to see what people are saying about their service and prices.
  • Call to verify your reservations and arrangements: Get the details about any “five-star” resorts or “luxury” cruise ships they promise — including what other travelers have had to say about them. Some companies market below-average vacation accommodations as “luxury” or “five-star.” When you have the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the airlines, car rental companies, and hotels you’ll be using, confirm all arrangements yourself. If you can’t get a person from the travel company on the phone to answer your questions, consider taking your travel business elsewhere.
  • Get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies before you pay for the trip, and ask “What if...?”: Consider whether some form of travel cancellation insurance is appropriate. Make sure the product you’re being sold is a licensed insurance policy. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association maintains a list of licensed travel insurance companies.
  • Pay by credit card: It gives you more protection than paying by cash or check. If you don’t get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. However, don’t give your account number to any business until you’ve verified its reputation.
  • Consider using a travel app: Travel apps can help you search for airfares and hotel rates, get fare alerts and real-time deals, and manage your itinerary.
  • Ask about mandatory hotel “resort fees”: When you book a hotel room online, you expect that the rate you see is the rate you’ll pay. But extra costs often called “resort fees” — for services like fitness facilities or internet access — can add to the per night cost of your stay. More important, the fees are mandatory: you must pay them regardless of whether you use the services. Many people don’t find out about the fees until they arrive at the hotel — or worse, when they check out. You can’t compare rates for different hotels unless you know all the fees. If you’re not sure whether a website is showing you the total price, call the hotel and ask about a “resort fee” or any other mandatory charge. Listing the “resort fee” near the quoted price or in the fine print — or referring to other fees that “may apply” — isn’t good enough. If you find out a hotel hasn’t told you the whole story about mandatory fees, in addition to complaining to the company, file a complaint with the FTC.
  • Ask questions before joining a travel club: Sometimes, a “free trial” membership can result in monthly charges on your credit card. Find out what you’ll get for your money and how you can cancel.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) regulates sellers of travel and most are required to register and post a bond that can be used to provide refunds. Visit www.FloridaConsumerHelp.com or call 800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español for more information.

Front Desk Scams:

Travelers should be aware of a phishing scam called “Front Desk Scam” that targets hotel and motel guests, the release said. The thieves call a hotel room from an untraceable number, pretending to be a front desk employee. They will tell you that there seems to be a problem with your credit card information, and they need to verify all your information again or obtain an alternate method of payment. Since the calls usually take place in the middle of the night when most people are sleeping, the thieves will have stolen your information and accessed your accounts before you realize what has happened. If the hotel you are staying in has a problem with your credit card information, they will explain the situation to you at check-in. Should there be a problem, they will ask for another method of payment right then.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when staying in a hotel or motel:

  • Make all payments face-to-face.
  • Always book your hotel with a credit card instead of a debit card.  Many credit cards have fraud protection.
  • Don’t share your location on social media.
  • Never give information over the phone if you receive a call in your hotel.
  • Go directly to the front desk if you receive a call about a problem with your credit card.