Dept. of Ag finds 276 pump skimmers this year

- With the July Fourth holiday weekend approaching, authorities put out a warning to drivers Friday to be on the lookout for gas pump skimmers.

The Florida Department of Agriculture has already recovered 276 skimmers on its own this year, accounting for more than a third of the nearly 650 devices Commissioner Adam Putnam's office has removed from pumps since 2015.

That doesn't even account for the skimmers local police departments and sheriff's offices have also found during that same time period.

Hillsborough County Detective Larry McKinnon said criminals will likely be on the prowl during a weekend with a lot of travelers.

"The skimmers are always going to take advantage of the maximum amount of usage," he said, adding there are some tips all drivers should follow. "Monitor our accounts, monitor our cards, utilize pumps that require zip codes and a lot of times, if all else fails, just go inside and pay cash."

McKinnon said another issue is that skimmers are getting more sophisticated and, in some cases, use WiFi to transmit the stolen data.

The crime is so common, it's easy to find drivers who have been victimized in the past.

"It was about three grand. They caught it within four hours," said Jessica Behal, who had her credit card number stolen while she was on vacation. "It was a big inconvenience. I had that credit card for eight years."

"I had gotten hit at a gas station in Drew Park," said Mike Bailey. "It was a pain because you had to go to the credit union, sign paperwork stating you had nothing to do with all this, they lock that account, those funds from my account for about 10 days."

Bailey was on alert after the incident. He noticed something was out of the ordinary three weeks later when he was at a GTE Bank ATM in Tampa and pulled a skimmer off of it.

"I pulled on it. The skimmer device came out in my hand," Bailey said.

Drivers can either take those stories as warnings or listen to the Florida Department of Agriculture. Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office alone removed 276 skimmers so far this year and local authorities have found many more.

Putnam and law enforcement expect thieves to be on the prowl for credit card information during the holiday weekend.

"The skimmers are always going to take advantage of the maximum amount of usage” Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Det. Larry McKinnon said, adding skimmers are more sophisticated than ever.

Some even use Wi-Fi to transmit the data. These days, he's constantly giving this advice: “Monitor your accounts, monitor your cards, utilize pumps that require zip codes and a lot of times, if all else fails, just go inside and pay cash.”

Authorities also recommend using a pump closer to the station because thieves often place skimmers further away, but that isn't always the case. The best bet is to use a credit card or use a debit card as credit and keep an eye on your account.

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