Special to Card Thieves: Fear the Skim Reaper
Credit card fraud is everywhere. From criminals breaching retail systems to thieves putting skimmers on gas station pumps, it seems like there's no easy way to protect yourself from possible identity fraud. But now there's a new device about to hit the market called the Skim Reaper, and it could give you the information you need to prevent your personal information from being stolen.
The Skim Reaper is from the minds of a group of researchers at the University of Florida, who wanted to develop a device that can detect the presence of a skimmer. A skimmer is a device that a thief puts onto a card reader so that it can read and track the personal information on your card. Thieves then use this information to make purchases, create their own credit cards with your information, or try to sell your information to other crooks.
Skimmers are incredibly popular ways to get personal card information, and even though the EMV card chip has cut down on fraud, criminals can still get your card data. ATMs and gas station pumps are two of the top places where you might find a skimmer, and one of the reasons a gas pump is useful to a crook is because you still only swipe your card, and the reader is reading the vulnerable magnetic stripe, not the data on the chip. Skimmers can also contain cameras that can watch you type in your PIN.
Skimming devices attach on to existing card readers and are designed to fool you they're the read reader. When you try to use your card as you'd normally do, the skimmer reads your card and transmits that information to the criminals. Once thieves have that information, they can manufacture their own version of your card and use it at will.
The average person can't tell if a skimmer is on a card reader--and let's be honest, how many of you check for them when you stop at a gas station to quickly fill up your tank?
But soon you'll be able to. Patrick Traynor, an associate professor in the University of Florida's Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering and co-director of the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research, led a team in solving the problem of simple skimmer detection.
The Skim Reaper is a device that targets two types of skimmers: overlay, which snaps onto the outside of a card reader, and deep insert, which is slid into a card reader. The device itself is a credit card-sized circuit board that connects to a small box containing another circuit board and a lithium battery. You dip, insert or swipe the Skim Reaper card into any card-reading device. It looks for the presence of a second reader within the machine, which indicates a skimmer is present. Then it registers its findings on the box's display panel. If you get the all clear, it's fine to continue on and use the card reader for your purchases or ATM transactions.
Developing the product has been years in the making, as the research team worked with law enforcement and industry partners to develop and test prototypes. After some fine-tuning, the device is ready for market and should be available later this summer.
IEEE Spectrum reported that the researchers think their initial customer base will be law enforcement agencies and businesses that want to test the card readers at their stores and ATM locations. However, the team is working on a version that's more consumer- friendly and hopes to be able to build a wallet-sized version that's easy to carry around and use.