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Cape Town CCID warns of sophisticated gangs targeting ATM clients

Cape Town CCID warns of sophisticated gangs targeting ATM clients

Sophisticated, well-dressed syndicates using high-performance getaway vehicles are targeting ATM users with a variety of cons that are seeing bank clients being scammed out of thousands of rands.

This is according to Muneeb Hendricks, Safety & Security manager of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), who says the public needs to be warned about this new threat they might encounter when they are withdrawing cash from ATMs.

However, according to Hendricks, this latest form of ATM criminal activity is not confined to Cape Town’s CBD or even Cape Town; law enforcement agencies are receiving reports that cities across South Africa are experiencing the complex criminal activity that appears to be extremely well organised.

Says Hendricks: “We are unfortunately getting increasing reports of this happening from our own public safety officers on the ground and it is of great concern to us, as I am sure it is to all public safety and even law enforcement services tasked with protecting the public.

“Within the CCID footprint, more than one incident is being reported on a daily basis, which is extremely worrying. We’ve also noticed that the biggest group being targeted is tourists, which is concerning as a large part of our economy depends on this sector for job creation.”

In many instances, the crime may even only be detected at a later stage when – in the worst case scenario – a bank account has already been emptied, or when a bank client has suffered a considerable loss.

Hendricks says it has been the CCID’s experience that the gangs or syndicates operate in four- to six-man teams and are not afraid to threaten security guards at ATMs with bodily harm if they interfere with their scams.

“Thankfully, so far, nobody has been injured within the Cape Town CBD, but it is a potential threat no security operation can discount.”

Hendricks says the syndicates appear to use various techniques to con their targets and get access to victims’ cards and PINs.

“It seems to be a lot more sophisticated than the standard, pushy one-person approach of ‘let me help you draw money; this machine is problematic’ that we’ve seen in the past, because nowadays most people are wise to that.

“These guys almost always have cash in their hands so that they look like they’ve just drawn money, and each person in the syndicate has a different role. The one who is tasked with watching you enter your PIN, for instance, will not be the same person who steals your card.

“One of the common tactics is for the syndicate member who has ostensibly just drawn money and is holding cash to ‘accidentally’ drop a high-value bank note on the floor to distract you during your ATM transaction. And when your attention is diverted, another member steals your card outright or switches it.

“Then once they have your card and PIN they tend to leave the area, get into their waiting vehicle – our investigations have found these are often hired cars – and speed off. Sometimes people realise immediately that they have been scammed and are able to block their bank cards on the spot, but many are less fortunate.”

Hendricks says the problem for the CCID’s public safety officers, and in turn their law enforcement partners, is that ATMs are usually considered to be private property. It therefore lies with the various banks to secure their own properties, but several ATMs in the CBD and elsewhere do not have dedicated security attached to them.

“This is currently on our radar to such an extent that we have engaged with the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) as well as with the various banks to voice our concern. We’ve also been engaging with SAPS and Cape Town Tourism, the latter in particular to establish effective public awareness campaigns. As the CCID, we ourselves made ATM fraud a key focus in our recent festive season ‘Stash it, don’t flash it’ campaign.”

Hendricks says members of the public can do a lot to mitigate the risk factors when withdrawing cash from ATMs. Among the steps he advises are:

  • Lower your daily withdrawal limit to the minimum you can comfortably manage, because it reduces the potential loss if you fall victim to an ATM scam;
  • At night, only use ATMs in well-lit areas;
  • Draw from ATMs where there are bank security officials clearly in sight;
  • Refuse assistance from strangers who approach you at ATMs, even people claiming to be bank employees;
  • Do not allow yourself to be distracted while drawing cash and do not let your card leave your sight before or after an ATM transaction;
  • Be aware of your surroundings and watch out for people standing close to you, or trying to see your PIN;
  • Never leave your card in an ATM and if it gets stuck or swallowed, follow the instructions provided by the bank on the ATM itself;
  • Make sure you are not followed after completing a transaction;
  • Instruct your bank to activate SMS notifications for all transactions, which should alert you if money is leaving your account in an unauthorised manner;
  • Keep your bank’s “lost card” telephone number in your mobile phone so that if a transaction that you did not make does take place, you can report it immediately;
  • If you fall victim to any sort of ATM crime, immediately report it to the police and open a criminal complaint. It should be unnecessary, but nevertheless remind the investigators to request the ATM camera footage from the bank concerned.