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Why do state lawmakers have their sights set on gas pumps?

State lawmakers will soon be heading back to Tallahassee for the start of the next legislative session, which runs from January 12 to March 10. It goes without saying that their agenda will be packed and that certain controversial issues will be broached.

Interestingly enough, one of the issues that both chambers will be called upon to debate and decide is whether the penalties associated with the use of so-called "skimmers" need to be increased in order to address rising levels of credit card theft.

What exactly is a skimmer?

In general, a skimmer is a surreptitiously placed electronic device that can be purchased over the Internet and which is designed to record the credit card information of those who swipe their plastic through the payment device at gas pumps.

Typically, those who install skimmers return to the gas stations in question, pretending to fill up while remotely downloading all of the recorded credit card information.

Are skimmers that big of a problem in Florida?

State officials maintain that credit card fraud stemming from the use of skimmers is a very real problem here in the Sunshine State. According to the Florida Agriculture Department, a recent three-month investigation by its agents uncovered 103 skimmers at 7,571 gas stations across the state, while agency estimates indicate that upwards of 5,000 people could fall victim to skimmers, suffering an average loss of $1,000, in 2016.

Has legislation been proposed and, if so, what does it call for?

Legislation addressing skimmers has already been drafted and will be introduced this session. It essentially calls for the crime of using a skimmer to commit fraud to be reclassified from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony, such that those convicted of this crime could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison instead of five.

In addition, the legislation would require service station owners to secure gas pump cabinets with tape so that it would be plainly evident if any tampering occurred, and change the law governing possession or trafficking in stolen credit cards, such that possession of five or more cards -- as opposed to ten or more -- would trigger second-degree felony charges.

Does this legislation stand a good chance of passing?

It has already gained significant traction in both the Senate and House. Indeed, one of its strongest supporters is House Majority Leader Dana Young (R-Tampa).

While it's still very early, these efforts indicate that state lawmakers are now committed to cracking down on credit card fraud and, by extension, making examples out of certain individuals. As such, anyone who finds themselves facing these types of charges should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

At the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., we have more than 30 years of experience protecting the rights of clients facing fraud charges. Please visit our website to learn more about how we can help you.