TALLAHASSEE -- With the simple swipe of a credit card at a gas station pump, it's become easier for identity thieves to steal customers' information and rack up fraudulent charges in their names.
State Sen. Anitere Flores' family knows this all too well; a close family member's credit card information was stolen from a gas station "skimmer" two years ago in Miami, she said.
"Within hours, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of charges -- specifically gas station charges -- were put on the card," said Flores, R-Miami. "It was scary, but it was also a major inconvenience: canceling credit cards and changing account numbers. You shouldn't have to go through all that just because you're using the convenience of paying at the pump."
With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Flores and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, want to crack down on the use of skimmers by requiring gas stations to have better security measures and by increasing the penalties for criminals convicted of credit card fraud.
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Skimmers are devices that illegally capture and steal credit- and debit-card information. State inspectors in Putnam's department have located and removed 161 skimmers statewide since March alone. Of those, 71 devices -- 44 percent -- were found at gas stations in South Florida. Eighteen -- 11 percent -- were discovered in Tampa Bay-area gas stations.
Florida law makes it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to obtain fuel fraudulently. But legislation introduced by Flores and Young calls for a steeper punishment: a second-degree felony, or up to 15 years in prison.
Their proposal also reduces from 10 to 5 the minimum number of counterfeit cards or stolen credit card numbers someone needs to possess in order to be charged with a second-degree felony, making it easier for prosecutors to go after identity thieves.
Meanwhile, the legislation improves mandatory safeguards to protect customers. Gas stations would be required to have better security measures in place to hinder or prohibit criminals from accessing customers' credit card information.
At a minimum, pumps would be required to have pressure-sensitive security tape over the panel that leads to the credit card machine. Some gas stations already do this.
"By increasing security measures at gas pumps and increasing the penalties for criminals who prey on innocent consumers, this legislation will help protect Floridians and visitors from thieves who use skimmers to steal from our citizens," Young said in a statement.
Putnam's staff at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would also have more power to enforce the regulations -- including the ability to take pumps out of service if gas station owners fail to meet required safeguards and don't correct the problem within five days, or if they repeatedly violate it.
House Bill 761 and Senate Bill 912 were filed last week and have not yet been referred to legislative committees for hearings.