Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is providing Floridians with tips to avoid travel scams and gas skimmers over the holidays.
“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,” Fried stated.
“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.”
According to Commissioner Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, here are five tips for consumers to avoid fraud by gas pump skimmers:
• Pay inside instead of at the pump: It is 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
Background on gas pump skimmers
Skimmers — small electronic devices illegally installed inside gas pumps – first began to appear in Florida in 2015 and have grown since. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Standards regularly inspects gas pumps and analyzes samples of petroleum products to ensure consumers are being offered quality products. Through diligent efforts, the number of skimmers has decreased from 1309 in 2021 to 398 in 2021.
Skimmers can be undetectable to consumers because of their location inside gas pumps, and have a potential for $1 million in fraudulent credit card charges per skimmer. They range from simple devices that clamp onto internal wiring that criminals must later retrieve, to sophisticated devices that deliver stolen credit card data via Bluetooth and automated text messaging.
For more information, visit FDACS.gov/skimmers.
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).
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the following tips for planning a good trip:
Protecting Against Travel Scams
Deal with businesses you trust, get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies. If someone says you’ve won a “free” vacation but need to pay, just walk away.
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. 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.
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 “resort fees”: When you book a 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. 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.
Front Desk Scams: Travelers should be aware of a phishing scam that targets hotel and motel guests. 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. 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.
Nikki Fried is Florida Commissioner of Agriculture