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House takes aim at skimmers

DES MOINES — To deal with a five-fold increase in cases of skimming devices placed on ATMs and fuel pumps to steal credit card information, the Iowa House has approved language to make it easier to prosecute those crimes.

House File 2199 was approved 97-0 Tuesday to clarify language bill manager Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, said made it “nearly impossible to prosecute the last 32 charges of fraudulent skimmers in the past decade.”

Skimmers are scanning devices attached to payment terminals to harvest data from every card swiped. The information, whether manually removed from the ATM or fuel pump or retrieved though a Bluetooth connection, can be used to clone the card or break into bank accounts.

And Cedar Valley law enforcement officers are no strangers to the devices.

In August 2017, armored car guards found a skimmer on Veridian Credit Union ATM at 1515 E. San Marnan Drive. Authorities said it only had been in place for about an hour and doubt any information was compromised because it was discovered before the person who placed it could retrieve it.

Residents reported suspicious activity on their credit cards in November 2016, and police traced it to two skimmers that had been placed on Farmers State Bank ATMs in Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

Waverly police arrested three people who used skimmed credit card information to purchase gift cards at Wal-Mart in February 2017. Authorities said the three — who were indicted on federal charges — had used cloned cards throughout Iowa. One of the three had been tied to a skimmer discovered on a gas pump at a Wisconsin convenience store in November 2016.

Use of skimmers in Iowa has exploded in recent years, Nunn said. The 32 charges filed have resulted in seven convictions. He called it unacceptable that “criminals are more effective using the technology than our attempts to safeguard it.”

The full extent of skimming is not known because it is reported to local authorities and there is no central tracking, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. The association estimates 37 million Americans refuel each day with 29 million paying with a credit or debit card. A single compromised pump can capture data from as many as 100 cards a day.

During the first six months of 2017, the number of compromised fuel pumps and ATMs jumped more than 20 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to FICO, an analytics software company. That comes on the heels of a 30 percent increase in compromised devices from 2015 to 2016, and a 70 percent increase in compromised cards during the same time periods, FICO reported.

The bill, similar to similar to Senate Study Bill 3024, was supported by convenience stores, bankers, business groups and county attorneys. No lobbyists were registered in opposition.

Rookie Waverly-Shell Rock robotics team among those heading to state competition

WAVERLY — The Wave Droids have been spreading the word about robotics.

That was key to the rookie Waverly-Shell Rock High School team advancing to the FIRST Tech Challenge Iowa Championship Friday and Saturday in Coralville. Eight of the 48 teams at the competition are from Northeast Iowa. The event is taking place at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

The 13 freshmen through juniors who make up the Wave Droids, also known as Team 13206, put a lot of effort into community outreach this school year after forming last summer.

Junior Sam Potter said that included showcases of the robot they built for a 4-H club, service organizations, and the middle and high schools. Members also did 4-H and elementary school STEM camps and mentored FIRST Lego League teams. FIRST — or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is an international organization that sponsors a number of robotics programs.

Judges at the super qualifier meet earlier this month were apparently impressed, since the team walked away with the first place Motivate award. Teams who work to promote FIRST across their school and community are candidates for the award.

In addition, the Wave Droids did a lot of fundraising to pay for robot components and materials needed for their outreach.

“It’s been a pretty big undertaking,” said Potter. But it has expanded his horizons. “I’ve got to do stuff I would’ve never thought I could do,” including a radio interview about the Wave Droids’ season.

FIRST Tech Challenge teams build robots on an 18-inch square base and compete on a 12-foot by 12-foot field. This year’s game is called “Relic Recovery.” Teams operate the robots, which gather and place objects like foam cubes and plastic balls to score points during 2-1/2 minute matches.

In preparation for the championship, Potter said students have been fixing problems with the robot and working on mechanisms for scoring points. They are also updating the engineering notebook, which is a record of their work throughout the season, and polishing up their presentation.

Students are coached by Leslie Potter, Sam’s mom, and another parent, Eric Haaland, and also work with five mentors, most of whom have engineering backgrounds.

“It’s been such an interesting season since we started new last fall,” said Leslie Potter. “We have learned a lot very quickly.”

She has been pleasantly surprised to see how the students have coalesced as a team.

“I don’t think I have ever seen 13 people get along this long so well,” she said, noting their pragmatic approach to accomplishing tasks. “They are not thwarted at all by setbacks.”

Leslie Potter said the students have made many strides in developing technical and speaking skills — which are important for their presentation before judges.

“The student who didn’t want to get up and talk can now do it,” she said, for example.

Haaland said FIRST “really promotes teaching the community and other students about STEM,” or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “It gives them some actual hands-on experiences.”

Cedar Valley Honor Flight will fly again in 2018

WATERLOO — You might say Cedar Valley Honor Flight is going “24/7” in 2018.

It’s the seventh year the organization has sponsored trips for military veterans to see Washington, D.C., memorials honoring them.

“By the end of this year, we’ll have done 24 flights,” said Frank Magsamen, Cedar Valley Honor Flight co-organizer and Black Hawk County supervisor.

Flights are planned May 22, Sept. 25 and Oct. 23 from the Waterloo Regional Airport. They’re not cheap.

“It takes nearly $900 a day to do these” over the course of a year, Magsamen said.

“When we book three flights, it costs $300,000. We have to take in gifts to cover that cost,” Magsamen said.

Honor Flight volunteers are confident money will be raised.

“We’re not going to book the flights without the assurance we’ll have funding for them,” Magsamen said.

The one-day trips include visits to the national World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials as well as Arlington National Cemetery and other stops. Flights are open to veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. Veterans from Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Grundy and the northern half of Tama counties are eligible for the Waterloo flights. There are other Honor Flight hubs elsewhere in the state, including Cedar Rapids.

About 180 people have signed up for this year’s flights out of Waterloo. There is still room on the third trip. Applications are available at Hy-Vee stores or can be printed out from the Cedar Valley Honor Flight webpage online. Information on how to donate also is available at that website, The organization also has a Facebook page.

The local Honor Flight’s annual Variety Show fundraiser is scheduled April 14 at Electric Park Ballroom.