Credit card skimming is a disease. Meet the cure. The New York City Police Department is testing a “skim reaper” to detect and prevent credit card fraud. It’s based on a 3D printed prototype by researchers from the University of Florida.
Cyber-security researchers from the University of Florida are working with the New York City Police Department’s Financial Crimes Task Force on a device that can instantly detect the presence of a credit card skimmer.
Field trials are well underway. If successful, law enforcement officials and retail merchants can better prevent a card’s data being stolen from a tampered ATM.
The researchers have built five detectors for NYPD, based on a 3D printed prototype unit. Each one has been deployed to the five boroughs in New York City. Preliminary tests show the device is able to detect skimmers with high reliability.
“Payment card skimming remains a popular crime, and attackers can easily get into the business using a few inexpensive parts purchased over the Internet,” said Patrick Traynor, who helped develop the skim reaper. Traynor is co-Director of the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity (FICS) Research at UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.
And according to Lt. Gregory Besson of the NYPD Financial Crimes Task Force, card skimmers are a rapidly growing problem.
“In New York City, we saw a surge in ATM skimming in the past few years, as evidenced by the increase in devices recovered by our agency, the NYPD,” he says.
“In 2015, we recovered 48 devices, and two years later that number had doubled to almost a hundred devices in 2017. Correspondingly, our arrests more than doubled for the same period, from 48 skimming-related arrests in 2015 to 134 skimming arrests in 2017.
“The big takeaway is that we’re always seeking new innovative ways to tackle this growing crime type, and we welcome trying new tools that would aid us towards that goal.”
Don’t Fear the Skim Reaper
So how does skim reaper prototype work? Simple. A plastic card the same size of a credit or debit card is inserted into the card reader being tested. The detector inspects the card slot, and alerts the user if the reader is unsafe.
“We’ve had to manufacture these cards. We’ve been using 3D printers that we have here in the lab to built our boxes. The students have been soldering, they’ve been writing software,” Traynor explains.
Currently, it costs about $50 to make each Skim Reaper, but Traynor’s team aims to bring that figure down. Commercial availability could happen in six to nine months, and it may be small enough to fit in your wallet.
In a real world scenario, a consumer inserts the detector into the reader before using their own credit card. The detector would immediately notify the consumer if something was amiss.
“While more-secure chip cards are becoming more common, their universal use, especially in ATMs and gas pumps, is likely years away,” Traynor says.
“That means those old-fashioned swipe cards with the magnetic strips on the back will be around for the foreseeable future – along with their vulnerabilities.”