It was recently reported by several news sources that credit card skimmers were found in dozens of Florida gas stations.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had their inspectors do a sweep all over the state. They checked more than 6,000 gas stations and found skimmers in 81 locations.
Most of the stations appear to be in the Tampa Bay area, but skimmers were found all over the state, even as far north as the Panhandle. They were found in 26 different counties.
Gas stations are by far the most common area where thieves place skimmers. Bank ATM’s are much more secure. There is usually no access to the inside, so criminals have to place devices on the outside – in the form of “fake fronts” and fake keyboards covering the real ones.
The gas station skimmers are usually being place inside the gas pump, so customers have no idea it’s there. Gas station managers and owners should be inspecting the inside of all their pumps daily, but this probably isn’t happening.
An ideal situation would also be to have a security camera at every gas pump facing the customer. However, if gas stations have any security cams, there are usually only one or two outdoor cameras mounted up high, facing a large area.
Steps to avoid being a skimmer victim:
- The only way you be sure to avoid this crime is to pay for your gas inside and pay cash.
- Since most of us want to pay outside, it’s best to pick a larger nationwide chain as your location to buy gas, such as 7-11.
- Pick a location which asks your “billing zip code” when you use your credit or debit card (most 7-11 locations should have this feature on the pumps). This is an extra security precaution, because the crooks won’t know (or will have to guess) your billing zip code, if they stole your data. Run your debit card under “credit” so you don’t have to enter a PIN number.
- Try to always buy gas at the same location in your town. Try to plan ahead so that you don’t get low on gas and have to stop at a station when you’re out shopping many miles away. Always using the same location allows you to get familiar with the layout, what the pumps are supposed to look like, etc.
- Use a pump closer to the front of the store, because crooks probably will try to install skimmers on pumps farther away, so no one will see what they’re doing.
- If anything looks out of place or wrong about the gas pump, or if anything looks loose, don’t use it and inform the manager.
- Ask the gas station manager or owner how often they check their gas pumps on the inside. Some locations are putting “Security Seal” tape on the outside, but there is really know way to know if a crook could still have gotten access. Many crooks are easily getting universal keys that fit many different gas pumps. They can open the pump when no-one is watching, and place a skimmer inside very quickly. They can get the data later using Bluetooth wireless technology.
- Even if a station manager or other employee is checking the inside of pumps, they may not spot any skimmers, so you still have to take the other precautions mentioned on this post. The latest ATM skimmers are very sophisticated and small, and may look like nothing more than any of the other wires running inside the pump console.
- Check your bank or credit card account daily for unauthorized charges. The easiest way to do this is to check your account online.