Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried shares Florida tips for avoiding travel fraud and gasoline skimming over the holidays.
“As many Floridians prepare for their vacation trip, it is important to take steps to protect yourself and your family from gasoline rooms and other travel fraud.” Fried explained.
“There are simple steps like paying in-house instead of at the pump and calling to confirm travel reservations directly that can greatly reduce the chance 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 consumers can use to avoid dispenser skimmer fraud:
• Pay inside instead of at the pump: It is much less likely that a skimmer has been placed on the payment terminal in front of the clerk at the petrol station or in the supermarket. Take the few extra minutes to pay indoors with cash or a credit card to protect yourself from fraud.
• Look closely at the pump: Avoid open or unlocked pumps that have the tamper-evident security band cut or removed, or that otherwise appear unusual. If something appears cracked, loose, or tampered with, try a different pump. Some newer pumps may also have encrypted credit card readers – look for a glowing green lock icon near the credit card reader.
• Payment by credit card: If a credit card number is skimmed off, you are protected by the card issuer’s zero liability policy – but a stolen debit card number could do far more damage. If you need to use a debit card, use it as a credit instead of selecting Debit Card and entering your PIN. Use a credit card reader if available.
• Choose pumps that are closest to the physical building: Do not use pumps that are out of the employee’s line of sight, such as around a corner or behind a building. Thieves who place skimmers are less likely to put them in pumps where the store clerk could catch them in the act.
• Check your card statements and sign up for fraud alerts: Almost every credit card issuer offers fraud alerts, and many will send you an email or text message when your card is in use at a gas station. Regularly review your credit card and debit card transactions to ensure that no fraudulent activity has occurred. Consumers who suspect that their credit card number has been compromised should immediately report this to the 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 information on pump skimmers
Skimmers – small electronic devices illegally installed in gas pumps – first appeared in Florida in 2015 and have grown since then. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Standards regularly inspects gas pumps and analyzes samples of petroleum products to ensure that quality products are being offered to consumers. Through careful efforts, the number of skimmers has dropped from 1309 in 2021 to 398 in 2021.
Skimmers may be undetectable to consumers due to their location in dispensers and have the potential for fraudulent credit card charges of $ 1 million per skimmer. They range from simple devices that clip onto internal cables that criminals must later retrieve, to sophisticated devices that transmit stolen credit card information via Bluetooth and automated text messages.
See FDACS.gov/skimmers for more information.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) regulates travel sellers and most are required to register and leave a security deposit that can be used for refunds. Visit www.FloridaConsumerHelp.com or call 800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the following tips for good travel planning:
Protection against travel fraud
Partner up with companies you trust and get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policy. When someone says you won “for free” Vacation but have to pay, just go away.
Call to review your reservations and arrangements: get the details on all of them “five stars” Resorts or “Luxury” Cruise ships that promise – including what other travelers have to say about them. Confirm all arrangements yourself. If you cannot reach a person from the travel company to answer your questions, consider moving your travel business elsewhere.
Consider using a travel app: Travel apps can help you find airfare and hotel prices, get fare notifications and real-time deals, and manage your itinerary.
to ask about “Resort Fees”: When you book a room online, you expect the price displayed to be the price you pay. But extra costs are often mentioned “Resort Fees” – for services such as fitness facilities or internet access – can increase the accommodation costs of your stay. If you find out that a hotel didn’t tell you the full story about mandatory fees, in addition to filing a complaint with the company, file a complaint with the FTC.
Reception Fraud: Travelers should be aware of phishing scams targeting hotel and motel guests. The thieves call a hotel room from an untraceable number and pretend to be a receptionist. They will let you know that there appears to be a problem with your credit card information and they will need to double-check all of your information or request an alternate 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, another payment method will be asked immediately.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when staying at 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.
• Do not share your location on social media.
• Never give information over the phone when you receive a call at your hotel.
• Go straight to the front desk if someone calls you about a problem with your credit card.
Nikki Fried is Florida Agriculture Commissioner