Guards curb ATM fraud

A store in the city centre uses posters to warn of ATM fraud.

ATM fraud cases have decreased so remarkably since the deployment of Chrysalis Academy cadets to stand guard at ATMs around the city centre, that the provincial government has decided to extend the contract for the project.

Last year, the government put together a specialised task team in an attempt to curb ATM scams (“Scammers prey on ATM users”, CapeTowner, June 15, 2017). The task team, made up of the City Central Improvement District (CCID), SAPS, Cape Town Tourism and the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement division, representatives of the hospitality industry, the National Prosecuting Authority and bank fraud investigators, was to investigate the province’s increasing prevalence of ATM fraud.

The city centre was chosen as a pilot to formulate best practice strategies to roll out across the city, province and the rest of South Africa.

Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde, said the guards were part of a pilot programme which ran from December last year until February this year and which was aimed at addressing ATM fraud.

“The information emerged via a task force created by provincial government to investigate the issue after it was raised by concerned hospitality establishments.”

He said for the duration of the pilot project, the Department of Community Safety had placed seven pairs of guards at the hot spots, which resulted in a marked decrease in successful fraud attempts.

“The Department of Economic Development and Tourism then rolled out the programme from February with longer hours, and a view towards it becoming a more permanent arrangement,” Mr Winde said.

“It was rolled out again in the 2018/19 financial year, and 50 trained students from the Chrysalis Academy have been recruited to assist.”

He said as a result of the project, there had been a marked reduction in reported ATM cases; a marked reduction in attempts once fraudsters realised deployment was daily, an increase in awareness among tourists; an increase in confidence by surrounding stakeholders; reduced complaints from the hospitality industry; and arrests of fraudsters as limited opportunities exposed the syndicate.

The CCID security manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said ATM fraud had been identified as a major concern by a number of bodies as it had the potential to seriously impact the tourist economy.

“The CCID has been liaising with the Western Cape Government’s (WCG) Department of Economic Development and Tourism as well as the Department of Community Safety to formulate a ‘two-for-one’ win-win situation.

“The project involves job creation for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to become ambassadors in the city centre, while being deployed at ATMs, to educate the public on how not to become victims of crime and to provide an eyes-and-ears presence.

“We have definitely seen a major decrease in fraud at the ATMs where these student ambassadors are deployed.”

He said the CCID provided the student ambassadors with training, uniforms and two-way radios.

“We have also provided the educational material that they distribute to the public, as well as lollipop stands with posters alerting the public to ATM scams and ensuring that the ambassadors’ presence at the ATMs is highly visible.”

Mr Hendricks said ATM fraud was perpetrated by syndicates that operated all over the country and used “sophisticated scams rather than brute force to achieve their objectives”.

In the city centre, he said, the syndicates have moved on from skimming cards to more sophisticated scams.

“They operate in groups of four to six members, all of whom play a role during a scam operation. Usually extremely well dressed, these con artists even go as far as wearing security or tourist-related bibs and, once a target is spotted, they approach and use tactics to get the target to accompany them to an ATM, convincing them they need to do this for everything from ‘permits’ that will enable the tourist to walk down a particular street, to convincing them that tickets for sightseeing tours and buses can be obtained from an ATM.

“Once at the ATM, they then catch sight of the tourist’s PIN number, swop the card and speed off in a getaway car, ready to draw the money at the next available ATM.”

He said it is vital to warn all tourists and locals about ATM fraud, and also to encourage anyone using ATMs to place limits on their daily withdrawals. “When one travels and you enable your card to be used abroad via your bank, your normal daily limit does not seem to apply in a foreign country. So, if someone has your card and PIN number, they can draw huge and seemingly unlimited sums of money.”

The Cape Town Central police did not respond to the CapeTowner’s enquiries by the time this edition went to print.