NYPD tests new tool that detects credit card skimmers. Patrick Traynor, a cybersecurity expert, was in New York in February working with police to help identify a way to detect credit card skimmers on ATMs when he got a financial fraud alert: his own information had been stolen while he was in town.
It wasn’t the first time. In five years he’d had his personal information stolen by credit card skimmers — devices illegally installed on ATMs and gas station pumps that “skim” consumer credit card numbers — a half-dozen times.
“I’ve got 15 years of experience in the field of information security. If I can’t protect myself reliably, who else possibly can?” Traynor, a computer information science and engineering professor at University of Florida, said.
After three years of study, Traynor and two Florida graduate students invented a device they call the “Skim Reaper,” a credit-card thin gadget that slides into card reader slots and can easily and quickly detect if an ATM or gas pump has been compromised. The New York Police Department is testing the Skim Reaper with some early success in its effort to rid the streets of the pervasive devices. The AP was given exclusive access to the lab where the Skim Reaper was made, as well as NYPD tests of it in the field.
The Secret Service says skimmers steal more than a billion dollars from U.S. consumers annually, money that often funds organized crime.
Most credit card skimmers work by installing an extra “read head” inside or outside a machine. This extra read head allows criminals to make a copy of the card’s information as a consumer swipes it. Skim Reaper was built to detect when more than one read head is present, Traynor said.
The NYPD has four full-time, trained detectives tasked with finding credit-card skimmers installed on ATMs at bodegas, but say the problem is too widespread to be stopped with those resources.
“The problem is that it’s transient, they come in and place the device and move on. In early January we were getting killed,” Deputy Inspector Christopher Flanagan of the NYPD Financial Crimes Task Force said, referring to a January spike in skimming-related crimes.