Researchers from the University of Florida (UF) in the US have developed a device called Skim Reaper to detect credit card skimmers commonly installed at ATMs and gas pumps to steal sensitive information.

Card skimmers are considered to be an emerging problem, with statistics indicating fraudulent charges of more than $2bn incurred per year due to such skimming.

To address these concerns, the team invented a plastic card that when inserted into a card reader examines the slot and notifies the user in case of any safety issues.

Similar in size to a credit or debit card, the detector can be used by consumers to check before inserting their payment card.

UF co-director of the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity (FICS) Research Patrick Traynor said: “Payment card skimming remains a popular crime and attackers can easily get into the business using a few inexpensive parts purchased over the internet.

“While more-secure chip cards are becoming more common, their universal use, especially in ATMs and gas pumps, is likely years away.

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“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.”

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is trialling five of these detectors and early results demonstrated ‘high reliability’ for identifying skimmers.

The university said that the Skim Reaper devices, which might be small enough to fit in a wallet, will be commercially available over the coming months.