“Skim Reaper” is heading to SWFL and turning the tables on crooks at the pump

In a matter of seconds, crooks can compromise credit card readers at gas pumps, ATM’s and even store checkouts, but a new tool will soon help police, catch skimmers with just one swipe.

Professor Patrick Traynor with the University of Florida studies ways to detect skimmers.

“The bad guys are making these increasingly small and even more difficult to find in the machines and you’d never know it was there,” he said.

Dr. Traynor and his team developed the “Skim Reaper,” a product that’s so far been successful at detecting the illegal devices. What looks like a credit card is attached to small box. By inserting the card, the Skim Reaper can tell you if the card was read twice; a tell-tale sign that a skimmer is present. The Reaper can detect two kinds of skimmers, an external overlay which fits over a credit card reader, and what’s called a deep insert which is inserted inside the credit card slot, out of your sight.

The New York City Police Department and the Gainesville Police Department have both tested the Skim Reaper and after positive results, UF is expanding its research. Now, dozens of police departments, retailers and financial institutions are buying the device to try it out on a wider scale. The Punta Gorda Police Department is one of those taking part in the program.

“We’re very much about being proactive,” explained Punta Gorda Lt. Dylan Renz.

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Don’t see the map? Click here to see where gas station skimmers were found.

Within just this month, multiple skimmers were taken from pumps at one gas station along a busy stretch of Tamiami Trail in the city. A new ordinance recently went into effect requiring stations to put extra security on all gas pumps which will hopefully stop crooks from being able to slip a skimmer on the inside of the machine. However, that won’t stop the skimmer problem.

“This [the Skim Reaper and the ordinance] is really going to deter criminals from coming here and installing any of these devices in our city,” said Lt. Renz.

Punta Gorda Police are buying just one device to test during patrols. They hope to get their Skim Reaper delivered mid to late November.

Meanwhile, we reached out to other Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies about the Skim Reaper and no else plans on getting the device. The Lee County Sheriff’s office says it cannot comment on what it “…considered an investigative tactic,” and would not say one way or the other, if they were going to get the device. For anyone to participate in the pilot program, the cost of the device is $450, which goes to offset manufacturing and research costs. However, UF hopes to get the cost down significantly in order to make it available to the public by mid-2019.

The following jurisdictions passed an ordinance requiring gas pumps to add extra security to prevent criminals from putting a skimmer on the inside of the pump. A number of other areas are considering passing similar rules.

Read the full gas skimmer ordinance for the municipalities that have passed or introduced them:

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney
Producer:Katie Cribbs
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