With credit-card skimming thieves eluding law enforcement, state lawmakers are targeting the devices themselves.
Two bills before the Florida Legislature this session, SB 766 and HB 343, would make it a third-degree felony to possess or sell credit-card skimming devices in Florida.
“These devices are designed to specifically collect and steal consumer data,” said the sponsor of the Senate bill, state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami. “There is no other place in the market where you need a device like this.”
Rodriguez said Thursday much of the work behind the legislation was focused on tightening the definition of the skimmer itself so it would not impede the needs of retailers and anyone else involved in credit-card transactions.
“There are two parts to this legislation,” he said. “Part of it is to precisely and better define what is legal and what is illegal. The other part is criminalizing the sale of and use. There is no legitimate need for these skimming devices.”
He added that cracking down on the installing and use of the skimmers to steal credit-card information from gasoline pump machines and ATMs, which is illegal, is difficult because police have to catch the thieves in the act.
By making the possession and sale of the devices illegal, he said police would have a more effective tool. Both the Senate and House versions have one more committee hurdles to clear, perhaps as soon as next week, before they can make it to floor votes in each chamber.
The 2017 Florida legislative session marks the second year in a row that lawmakers have sought legislation to attack credit-card skimming.
Just this past spring, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill designed to protect consumers from skimmers at gas station pumps.
That legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, required gas stations to have security devices on pumps to combat skimmers and it toughened penalties for credit-card fraud.
It was also supported by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose agency has largely led the effort to crack down on skimmers.
James Miller of the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association said the organizations “fully support any legislation that cracks down on gas-pump skimming devices, punishes those caught using them, and protects Floridians and visitors.”
Miller said card skimming is a nationwide problem, but Florida, with the third-largest population and more than 100 million tourists, and more than 10,000 convenience stores statewide, presents significantly more opportunities for skimming devices to be used.
He said the organization seeks other ways to combat skimming fraud. This includes training sessions for convenience store owners and their staff year round throughout the state to help them identify potential scams, and arm their employees with knowledge and steps they can take to protect their store, their merchandise and their customers.
They also regularly communicate with local, state and federal law enforcement “on tips and identifying new technology or new ways that thieves are using skimmers,” he added.
Jeff Lenard, the vice president for Strategic Industry Initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores in Alexandria, Va., said the organization focuses on federal issues so it has not specifically followed the new Florida legislation.
However, he pointed out skimming tends to a be a problem because criminal groups come to an area and “work it” until they move on to another location. Florida, he said, is one of the areas that has more problems, perhaps because there is more of a transient population and newer neighborhoods.
How to avoid falling victim to a skimmer, and what to do if you do
- Pay inside the gas station in cash.
- Check the gas pump cabinet to make sure it’s closed and that it hasn’t been tampered with. Look for security tape or a sticker, and see if it looks peeled or broken.
- Use a pump closer to the front of the store. Putnam said skimmers often are placed at pumps farther away from where clerks can easily see someone tamper with them.
- Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Most credit cards have better protection against most types of fraud, officials say. Plus, debit cards immediately withdraw money from your account. If you do use a debit card, choose to run it as a credit card so you don’t have to enter your PIN.
If you think your credit card number might have been stolen or otherwise compromised, report it to your credit card company.
If you believe you might have found a skimmer, contact the gas station manager, local law enforcement or the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 800-435-7352.
mypalmbeachpost | Antonio Fins and Susan Salisbury