Protecting your cash: This device claims to spot skimmers – so we put it to the test

ATLANTA — It’s a problem that has plagued metro Atlanta for years – credit card skimmers.

The devices criminals use to steal your money when you swipe your credit card at the gas pump or inside stores.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray has learned that new technology is now making them even harder to spot and stop.

He found a new tool that claims it can protect you from having your money stolen.

The device is called the Hunter Cat and was produced by the Mexican company Electronic Cats. The Hunter Cat costs $45, and the company claims it can spot skimmers.

It looks like a credit card. You simply hold it up to a suspected skimmer and it tells you if there is one there or not.

A green light means you are safe to swipe. Red means there could be a skimmer.

It sounds so simple, we had to try it out.

Over a series of days and weeks, Gray took the $45 device with him to gas stations all across metro Atlanta.

He even mailed Hunter Cats to some of our colleagues at our sister stations around the country so they could test at their pumps.

Gray also spoke with the inventors of Hunter Cat, who said they saw a need for consumers to know if a skimmer is stealing your card data.

“You have a big problem right there and you can avoid it with this kind of device,” inventor Eduardo Contreras said.

Michael Orisa said he inspects the card reader on the pump every time he gets gas.

“I’m always on the lookout for that,” Orisa said.

The Hunter Cat gave Orisa a green “all clear.”

But does it really catch skimmers?

We took our hunter cat to the U.S. Secret Service to find out.

“We were just curious, will this work?” Gray asked Steven Baisel, who heads the Secret Service Atlanta Field Office.

“Sometimes,” Baisel said.

He said devices like the Hunter Cat can detect some skimmers.

Criminals can replace the face of a card machine inside a convenience store with a skimmer in seconds.

The Secret Service said the Hunter Cat would likely catch one of these traditional skimmers.

But even though Gray was regularly getting green lights at many of the gas pump tests he did, the Secret Service said the Hunter Cat would likely not catch the latest in skimmer technology.

Baisel showed Gray a new type of skimmer that he called a ‘man in the middle’ type device where it gets hooked up and it transmits the data.

This device is not skimming when you swipe, so the Hunter Cat can’t catch it. Instead, it is downloading data from inside the pump. Criminals later come and grab it on their phone or laptop by Bluetooth.

“For this type of device, this one will most likely not detect any type of skimming activity,” Baisel said.

If you check your Bluetooth setting at the pump and see a device with random numbers, it could be a skimmer…

For iPhones, there’s an app called “Card Skimmer Locator” and for Android, there’s “Skim Plus.”

But the criminals have found a workaround for that too. Skimmers where the Bluetooth only turns on when they come to collect the stolen credit card info.

“The criminals are evolving with the technology. They’re finding more vulnerabilities,” Baisel said.

Throughout his tests, Gray did spot one suspect pump near Jonesboro. In this case, the pump’s screen even showed a tamper alert.

He checked it again and again, and the Hunter Cat kept showing red.

He went into the store and asked about the suspect pump.

“Have you guys had a problem with people messing with your pumps?” Gray asked the store workers.

“No,” they replied.

The store denied any problems with skimmers, but Baisel said it’s easy for skimmers to go undetected.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Tug or jiggle the device to see if it’s secure. An overlay will likely pop off.

If the card is met with resistance when you stick it in, it’s a warning.

Watch for a strong Bluetooth signal.

But the biggest thing you can do at the pump is tap instead of swipe.

Experts say tapping your credit or debit card will likely avoid most of the skimming technology out there -- for now, and never use your debit card.

The Secret Service said the biggest rise in skimming right now, is not with physical skimmers. It’s malware and other technology on e-commerce websites where you shop, stealing your credit card information online.

The criminals are trying to stay one step ahead of technology.

Comments on this article





mobile apps

Everything you love about wsbradio.com and more! Tap on any of the buttons below to download our app.

amazon alexa

Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!