Florida

Your credit card could be copied at the gas pump. It’s crackdown time

Comissioner Adam Putnam, right, and State Sen. Anitere Flores speak about their legislation enabling harsher penalties for gas station skimmers and more protections for consumers.
Comissioner Adam Putnam, right, and State Sen. Anitere Flores speak about their legislation enabling harsher penalties for gas station skimmers and more protections for consumers. aharris@miamiherald.com

A trip to the gas station puts a dent in a driver’s wallet, but no one expects to walk away $1,000 poorer.

That’s the average amount a consumer loses when he fall victim to a credit card “skimmer” — a device wired to a gas pump that copies credit card information. Criminals wire the devices to pumps and collect the money and identities of victims.

More than 250 have been found at gas stations statewide since March 2015 by Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A June tally shows 16 found in Miami-Dade alone. Three were found at one station on 42nd Avenue and Sixth Street, the most of any station in the state.

“It’s real money that has been stolen from Floridians and tourists who are visiting our state,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnum, who visited Miami Dade Thursday.

In April, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law legislation enabling harsher penalties for skimmers and more protections for consumers. The measure was introduced by state Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Dana Young.

Starting in October, the penalty for fraudulently getting fuel jumps from a third-degree felony, which can bring a five-year prison sentence, to a second-degree felony, or up to 15 years.

On Thursday, at a Shell station at 10690 SW Eighth St. in West Miami-Dade, Putnam and Flores showed off new security measures being used by gas station owners. By the time the new law kicks in, gas station owners will have to use one or more security methods to protect their pumps.

Shell owner Maximo Alvarez showcased two layers of security, bought and installed at his own expense. The cheapest and most visible to consumers is bright red “anti fraud” tape, which is placed over the compartment skimmers use to attach hardware. When the pressure-sensitive tape is unsealed, it reveals clear stripes showing the seal is void.

If customers notice tape with a broken seal, the pump may have a skimmer.

Gas station owners can install unique locks on all pumps, though the cost is greater. The locks are used to secure panels needed by skimmers.

Raul Olivera, a technician with security company Sunshine, said his company is beta testing an even more secure feature that would instantly stop the flow of gas if a sensor revealed unauthorized access to the pump panel. The technology is being tested at stations in Hialeah and Weston.

Olivera said older skimmer models need to be manually removed to retrieve the information, but new ones can send the stolen goods via a bluetooth connection.

“These are not isolated incidents,” Putnam said. “They’re part of a larger criminal enterprise.”

Criminals sell blank credit cards preloaded with the information gleaned from skimmers — as well as the fuel bought fraudulently.

“They take hundreds of gallons of fuel on a bladder truck to resell on the black market,” Putnam said.

In November, Miami-Dade Police busted a gang of six who they believe, in addition to skimming and reselling fuel, ran an illegal cockfighting and marijuana growing enterprise.

Skimmers were caught on gas station security camera in March in Miami Beach.

Tips to avoid getting ripped off:

  • Choose a pump within eye line of the gas station clerk
  • Cash is the safest way to pay, but credit cards offer another more protection than debit cards
  • Check your receipts and credit card statements for fraud
  • If you suspect a skimmer, tell the gas station
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