Skimmers found during Northeast Florida gas station inspections after Dorian

State regulators checked 250 stations around Florida for potential storm damage

By Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM, Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two Northeast Florida gas stations were among more than a dozen around the state where inspectors found credit card skimmers while checking the stations for possible damage after Hurricane Dorian.

On Friday afternoon, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it had inspected 250 gas stations around the state most likely to have been impacted by the storm. The state inspections sought to make sure fuel supplies weren't compromised by water in underground storage tanks and to check for skimmers.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, here are 5 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. 

Among the 250 stations, none had storm-related damage, and the state said only two had water in underground storage tanks. One had already identified the issue and was not selling gas, and the other had minimal levels of water that would not contaminate the fuel being sold. All other stations had normal fuel supplies and were open for business.

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In a news release Friday, the state said inspectors removed 15 skimmer devices from the stations. News4Jax requested additional information about where those skimmers were found. On Monday morning, News4Jax obtained a list of 17 gas stations statewide where a total of 22 skimmers were found over the two-day sweep.

According to the state, skimmers were found at Sam's Discount Food Mart at 5703 Timuquana Road in Jacksonville and at Pat's Discount Citgo at 2110 U.S. Highway 1 in St. Augustine. In each case, the state said security measures had been in place and security tape had been properly placed on the pumps. A "correction notice" was issued at Sam's Discount Food Mart.

In South Florida, the inspectors found some gas stations with multiple skimmers. Three gas stations had skimmers found on two pumps, and another station had skimmers found on three pumps.

"After a disaster like Hurricane Dorian, we work swiftly to ensure that consumers are protected at the pump, from fraud hitting their wallets to bad fuel hitting their gas tanks," said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. "While we're confident consumers should feel safe fueling up post-storm, we encourage anyone suspecting issues to report them to us at 1-800-HELP-FLA or FloridaConsumerHelp.com."

Since Dorian, News4Jax has learned a skimmer was found this week at a Shell gas station off Wells Road in Clay County. Fried's office has since given the gas station the all-clear. But she's still warning drivers to take precautions. 

"First of all, cash is always best, and I know we are all so not used to carrying cash, but if you can pay with cash, if you can use your credit card inside so, you know, obviously, the machine has not been tampered with," Fried said. "But if you are going to use the pump, try to use ones closer to the actual convenience store so you know there are more eyes on that area. Make sure when you're looking there's no tampering."

Map of stations where skimmers were found:

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