Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is giving Floridians advice on how to avoid travel scams and gasoline skimmers while on vacation.
âAs many Floridians prepare to travel for the holidays, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself and your family from gasoline skimmers and other travel scams. “ Fried said.
“There are simple steps, like paying inside rather than at the pump and calling directly to confirm travel reservations, that can dramatically reduce your risk 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 gasoline skimmer fraud:
â¢ Pay inside rather than at the pump: It is much less likely that a skimmer was placed on the payment terminal in front of the clerk inside the gas station or convenience store. Take a few extra minutes to pay inside with cash or credit card to protect yourself against fraud.
â¢ Examine the pump carefully: Avoid using pumps that are open or unlocked, have tamper-resistant security tape cut or removed, or that appear unusual. If anything looks cracked, loose, or weathered, use a different pump. Some newer pumps may also have encrypted credit card readers – look for an illuminated green padlock symbol near the credit card reader.
â¢ Pay with a Credit Card: If a credit card number is skimmed, you are protected by the card issuer’s zero liability policy, but a stolen debit card number can 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 chip credit card reader if available.
â¢ Choose gas pumps that are closest to the physical building: Do not use gas pumps out of the attendant’s line of sight, such as those located on a street corner or behind a building. Thieves who place skimmers are less likely to put them in pumps where the store attendant can catch them red-handed.
â¢ Check your card statements and sign up for fraud alerts: almost all credit card issuers offer fraud alerts, and many will email or text you when your card is used at a resort -service. Regularly check your credit and debit card transactions to ensure that no fraudulent activity has taken place. Consumers who suspect that 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.
Gasoline pump skimmers background
Skimmers – small electronic devices illegally installed inside gas pumps – began appearing in Florida in 2015 and have grown since. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Bureau of Standards routinely inspects gas pumps and analyzes petroleum product samples to ensure consumers are being offered quality products. Thanks to diligent efforts, the number of skimmers has increased from 1,309 in 2021 to 398 in 2021.
Skimmers can be undetectable to consumers due to their location inside gas pumps, and have a potential of $ 1 million in fraudulent credit card charges per skimmer. They range from simple devices that attach themselves to internal wiring that criminals must retrieve later, 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 travel sellers and most are required to register and post a deposit that can be used to make 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:
Protect yourself against travel scams
Do business with companies you trust, get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies. If someone says you won a “free” vacation but need to pay, just go.
Call to verify your reservations and arrangements: get details of everything “five stars” seaside resorts or “luxury” cruise ships they promise, including what other travelers have to say about them. Confirm all arrangements yourself. If you can’t get someone from the travel agency on the phone to answer your questions, consider taking your travel company elsewhere.
Consider using a travel app: Travel apps can help you find airline tickets and hotel rates, get real-time fare alerts and deals, and manage your itinerary.
Ask about “Subsistence costs”: When you book a room online, you expect the displayed rate to match the rate you will pay. But additional costs often called “Subsistence costs” – for services such as fitness facilities or internet access – may increase the cost per night of your stay. If you find out that 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 customers. Thieves call a hotel room from a number that cannot be found, pretending to be a front desk clerk. They’ll tell you that there appears to be a problem with your credit card information, and they need to re-verify all of your information or get another payment method. If the hotel you are staying at has a problem with your credit card information, they will explain the situation to you upon check-in. If there is a problem, they will then ask you for another payment method.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when staying at a hotel or motel:
â¢ Make all payments in person.
Always book your hotel with a credit card instead of a debit card. Many credit cards are protected against fraud.
â¢ Do not share your position on social networks.
â¢ Never give out information over the phone if you receive a call in your hotel.
â¢ Go directly to reception if you receive a call about a problem with your credit card.
Nikki Fried is Florida Commissioner of Agriculture