A spate of robberies at ATMs across the CBD has raised the concern of the Central City Improvement District (CCID), South African Police Services and business owners.
A media statement by the CCID noted that “sophisticated, well-dressed syndicates, using high-performance get-away vehicles, are targeting ATM users with a variety of cons that are seeing bank clients being scammed out of thousands of rands”.
The CCID’s safety and security manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said: “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 central city footprint, more than one incident is being reported on a daily basis, which is extremely worrying.”
According to Mr Hendricks, areas within the CBD where such crimes are being reported include “high tourist traffic areas” such as Thibault Square, Greenmarket Square and St George’s Mall.
Mr Hendricks said: “We’ve noticed that the biggest group being targeted is tourists, which is very concerning as a large part of our economy depends on this sector for job creation and we cannot have them returning home with a negative impression of our CBD or country.”
Carlo Randall, a trader in St George’s Mall, whose stall is located next to an ATM, said: “I don’t think it’s only tourists being targeted. I think it’s more random than that. If you possibly look like a victim to them, they will target you.”
Mr Randall said that, although these robberies have not necessarily had a negative effect on his business, he added: “It hurts the perception of the area being a relatively safe one.”
Elrondo Payne, manager of a store located on Greenmarket Square and close to another ATM, said: “Every day you’d hear of such incidents. It does seem to be a syndicate targeting tourist, mainly.”
As to the effect on his business, Mr Payne said: “There are times when clients come in and the credit card machine is not working. They then have to go an ATM, but we certainly don’t want to advise them to use the one closest to us.”
Expanding on the syndicate’s modus operandi, Mr Hendricks said: “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.”
Mr Payne said: “Some people say that security guards might be involved, but I don’t think so, because they seem to be changed regularly. I think the security guards are threatened by these guys, because they know that at some point they have to go home – by train or taxis or whatever – and will be vulnerable then.”
Confirming this, Mr Hendricks said: “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.”
Constable Noloyiso Rwexana, communications officer for the SAPS Western Cape’s media centre, said: “There are fraud cases currently under investigation at Cape Town Central. Various groups are perpetrating ATM related crimes indiscriminately around the city. We urge people to report any suspicious people hanging around the ATMs to the police immediately. People must inspect the ATMs before use to check whether it has, for example, not been tampered with.”
Mr Hendricks provided the following tips to help the public reduce their risk of falling victim to the syndicate:
Blob: 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.
Blob: At night, only use ATMs in well-lit areas.
Blob: 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.
Blob: 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.
Blob: Be aware of your surroundings and watch out for people standing close to you, or trying to see your PIN.
Blob: 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.
Blob: Make sure you are not followed after completing a transaction.
Blob: Instruct your bank to activate SMS notifications for all transactions, which should alert you if money is leaving your account in an unauthorised manner.
Blob: 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.
Blob: 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.