By Frances Wang

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida is the number one state in the country for something we don’t want to be first in – fraud-related crimes.

One of the ways we get hit is at the gas pumps through small devices called skimmers.

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Skimmers are small electronic devices often installed in places like gas pumps and bank ATMs. In the past four years especially, they have been popping up all over the state of Florida.

In a CBS4 special report last month on gas skimmers Ana Perez, a gas inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, showed what to look for at the pumps and tips to protect your private information.

Staying away from the gas pumps that are farthest away from the cashier and the gas pumps closest to the exits used to be a good tip to avoid being skimmed. It is a safety tip many people know, but so do the criminals.

“I have found them right in the middle,” said Perez. “Sometimes people might look more in the corners, so [the criminals] put [the skimmers] in the middle.”

Perez, who checks for skimmers daily, said the criminals work fast.

“Within 30 seconds,” said Perez.

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.

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The state department she works for handles these crimes. They have removed about 2,400 skimmers since 2015. Over 1,000 of those were just in the last year. Those numbers don’t even include all of the skimmers located by gas station employees themselves or the ones detected by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

There is no centralized way of keeping track of how many gas-skimming cases there are.

(This data is from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services)

In an effort to reduce skimming, all gas stations in the state should have encrypted card readers by November 2020.

“This wire here is encrypted, the cannot put in a skimmer device,” said Perez pointing to the credit card machinery on the inside of a gas pump.

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said skimming is a huge problem, especially in South Florida, and it’s growing.

“Florida is known for its beaches, oranges, and Disney. However, we are also known for fraud. We are still the number one capital of fraud in the entire United States.

Gas skimming makes up a big part of those fraud numbers. For example, in just the past two weeks the state found 156 gas skimming devices bringing the total to just over 600 skimmers since the beginning of the year.

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Fried said fighting consumer fraud is a priority in her department. She added that she was disappointed that a bill she supported to create a task force focused on stopping fraud did not pass in the 2019 legislative session which ended last Saturday.

Frances Wang