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UNT professor works to create detector for credit card skimmers

A year into the making, there is now a patent pending for a device that can detect credit card skimmers.

At the University of North Texas’ Cyber Forensics Lab, UNT professor Scott Belshaw worked with Michael Saylor, the president of Cyber Defense Labs and students at UNT’s Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science to create the device.

“I’ve spoken with some of the big major gas companies and they’re just excited about, ‘Wow! That would be something that would be great,’” Belshaw said. “Because you look at, like Buc-ee’s over here that has so many gas pumps, somebody could pop one in there and you wouldn’t even know.”

Credit card skimming is when people use devices to steal credit card information when someone is doing everyday things like getting gas or money from the ATM. Skimmers can be placed over almost any credit card reader but are most often found at gas stations or ATMs, according to The Balance, a personal financial advisory website.

“There’s the Bluetooth skimmer that is primarily found in gas pumps,” Saylor said. “And so it’s inside the pump and it transmits out over a Bluetooth connection to bad guys waiting in the parking lot or next door.”

For ATM skimmers, it is usually something over the card slot so when people slide their card in, it captures the credit card information.

“Those are usually in conjunction with some hidden camera so they can capture your PIN code,” Saylor said. “And those devices are either Bluetooth or they store the data on little memory cards.”

Another type of skimmer is called an overlay skimmer.

“So if you’re at the grocery store and you see the little credit card reader there or at Starbucks, bad guys can buy a complete fake cover that looks identical to that,” Saylor said. “They just distract the cashier and they just stick it right on top of the credit card reader that’s there.”

Saylor said the idea is one detector can find multiple types of skimmers.

“Our approach is a little more encompassing instead of just focusing on one type of skimmer, which I don’t believe anybody has done," he said.

The average ATM skimming fraud costs $600 per card and a single compromised gas station pump can capture data from around 30 to 100 cards a day, according to Rippleshot’s State of Card Fraud 2018 report.

“With our wand, they can go around and scan all the pumps and ... as researchers we don’t necessarily say, ‘Yes there is’ or, ‘No there’s not’, we say, ‘More likely there is,'”Belshaw said of the detector. “So what we do is based on the technology inside ... it will say, ‘Yes, more likely there’s one in [there], you need to check.’”

With the technology of the detector completed, the next step in its development is the design, with a preliminary drawing of what it could look like.

“We’ve just got the tech built, so it’s just a bundle of wires and stuff,” Belshaw said.

Concurrently with the design process, Belshaw also wants to test the detector at gas pumps, instead of on skimmers they activate in the lab.

“Gas pumps are designed different ... so we want to use a bunch of different kinds of gas pumps from different companies,” he said. “My ultimate goal would be to look at different gas pumps from a whole bunch of different companies and if we can do that, then that’d be great.”

Belshaw said the detector works, they just want to be able to test it in the field.

“The problem is that we would have to get a phone call from someone that has found one and we would have to race over there and test it,” he said. “Not very practical. We know the tech detects it, [we] just need to do it in the field.”

The ultimate goal for the detector is for entities to be able to buy and use it.

“Gas companies, law enforcement, the public [could use it]; to have that, that’d be nice if you had one of those if we could develop it smaller," Belshaw said.

Possibility for first 100-degree day Tuesday

Denton County residents could see their first 100-degree day of the summer on Tuesday.

According to the National Weather Service, the average first day to see the temperature in the Dallas-Fort Worth region is July 1. Monday’s high temperature at Denton Enterprise Airport was 94.

Juan Hernandez, a weather service meteorologist, said Tuesday is the most likely day to hit 100 degrees in the coming week.

“[Tuesday] is going to be the hottest day, and it’s actually going to feel the hottest,” Hernandez said Monday afternoon.

He said the heat index — which indicates how hot it feels — of 105 to 107 degrees could be seen across the county, but the actual temperature might hover just below the triple-digit summer milestone.

Because of that, a heat advisory has been issued by the weather service, from noon Tuesday through 7 p.m. Wednesday.

As Tropical Depression Barry fades away, Hernandez said the southerly winds will return from the Gulf Coast and push the muggy coastal air toward North Texas. Humidity will rise and bring the higher heat indexes along with it.

While heat indexes upward of 100 aren’t new this year, Hernandez said the dangers of dehydration and heat exhaustion are still possible in the coming days. He recommended that people drink plenty of water and stick to the shade whenever possible.

For those praying for a relatively cool summer, Hernandez offered a glimmer of hope. In 1906 and 1973, the region never saw the temperature reach triple-digits.

At Denton Municipal Electric, Brent Heath, executive manager for energy delivery, and Terry Naulty, assistant general manager, said a relatively mild summer has kept energy prices fairly low compared to previous years.

Five takeaways on DCTA's year of change and budget for 2020

This story has been updated to correct the amount of the agency's cash reserves.

LEWISVILLE — The DCTA staff is calling 2019 its year of change, but preliminary budget documents unveiled Monday showed little changing for fiscal year 2020.

New board members for the Denton County Transportation Authority buckled in for the long ride Monday in a workshop that lasted most of the day. DCTA President Raymond Suarez said the staff understood that some new board members are accustomed to zero-based budgeting and other financial tools, and they would deliver on providing those details.

Board members saw everything from a chart of accounts to a long-range forecast projected to 2035.

They also met behind closed doors to discuss the development of the rail corridor and other transit-oriented development. Corinth has renewed talks with DCTA for a possible rail station there.

Public hearings for next year’s budget are still a month away and the agency won’t formally adopt the spending plan until September, but key themes emerged during the public portion of the preliminary talks.

Here are five takeaways from Monday’s discussion:

1. A new board means a fresh look at the numbers.

New executive board members include Carrollton resident Randall Chrisman, a former board chairman for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and three elected officials: Denton Mayor Chris Watts, Corinth Mayor Pro Tem Sam Burke and Lewisville City Council member TJ Gilmore.

At an executive committee meeting last week, the members urged the staff to keep the budget flat for the coming year. The proposed $49 million spending package Monday included only slight increases in fare revenue and 2% growth in sales tax revenue.

On the expense side, the agency projected only inflation-type increases and two new hires, one full-time and one part-time.

2. DCTA’s local fare promotion reduced its losses from the sale of regional passes.

An agreement between the region’s transit agencies is that each gets to keep the money from whatever regional passes they sell. DCTA broke ranks by lowering local fares, and riders soon figured out that if they bought a local pass in Dallas (or Fort Worth) and again in Denton County, they would save money over buying a regional pass. DCTA lost some money by selling fewer regional passes, but ended up on the plus side because most riders using regional passes had been buying them in Dallas and Fort Worth rather than in Denton. Previously, DCTA was collecting about $1.16 in fares per A-train ride. Now, the agency is earning about $1.50 per ride.

In addition, minimum bus fare increased to $1.50 per ride.

3. DCTA has about $20 million for various contingencies in the bank.

By its own policy, DCTA must keep three months’ of operating expenses in reserves, or about $8.5 million at today’s spending rate. But most of DCTA’s revenue comes in the form of sales tax collected in Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville, which can be variable. So, the agency also keeps 3% of its annual sales tax collection — not quite $1 million — on hand for stabilization. A similar fund hedges against swings in fuel costs.

In addition, DCTA keeps a capital maintenance fund to maintain service in case of loss. The finance staff said the agency has not yet touched that fund. Losses from catastrophic flooding in 2015 were paid by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

4. DCTA will know more soon about how much its services really cost.

Board members weren’t satisfied in knowing that the bus service is expected to cost $13.4 million next year and A-train service $14.1 million, for two main reasons.

First, DCTA’s three member cities pony up the lion’s share of the agency’s budget through sales tax collection in Denton, Lewisville and Highland Village. That means taxpayers in those cities are looking for a better accounting of what’s getting spent and delivered in their communities, DCTA’s regional focus notwithstanding.

Second, DCTA delivers transit services via contracts, too. A better accounting can ensure that Frisco, McKinney, the University of North Texas and North Central Texas College are paying their fair share for the cost of services.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is developing the cost model for DCTA, which is expected to be delivered soon, staff said.

5. The budget includes modest ridership increases.

Bus ridership has increased in parts of DCTA’s system as much as 15% in the past year. But those increases haven’t been throughout the system and there are still a few quiet summer months to go before officials know whether the overall ridership is really on the upswing and can continue next year.

A-train ridership has dropped every year since 2014, so a 1% increase in 2020 could signal a turnabout in the system.