Scammers prey on ATM users

Tourists have become targets of increasingly sophisticated ATM scams in the city centre, and in an attempt to curb this, the Provincial government has put together a specialised task team, piloted in the city centre.

Authorities have also warned tourists, as well as locals, to be cautious when using ATMs.

According to a statement by the City Central Improvement District (CCID), ATM scammers were getting more and more sophisticated in their attempt to con unsuspecting tourists.

One of the latest scams, according to the report, involves convincing tourists they need a special street parking permit for hire cars that can only be obtained from specific ATMs.

The CCID’s security manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said: “We have found that, because fewer visitors appear to be using ATMs in public areas, the conmen are in turn devising new distraction techniques to draw people back to where they can conduct their scams.

“One of the latest scams we’ve come across is the ‘special’ parking permits, or even permits to walk down a street where a film shoot is happening, to lure unsuspecting visitors to the ATMs these conmen know are not being as heavily monitored by security as other cash dispensers in the area.”

He also said that the CCID was, on average, called to the scene of approximately 10 incidents of ATM fraud in the central city each week.

This information has emerged from the task team constituted by the provincial government to investigate the province’s increasing prevalence of ATM fraud.

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

These strategies include how to devise effective educational awareness campaigns in venues frequented by tourists and drafting accurate information that hotel front desk staff should convey to guests who are checking in.

The task team, led by the Western Cape Economic Development Forum, is made up of tourist and safety role-players in the area, including the 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.

Economic Opportunities MEC, Alan Winde, said an increase in ATM crime had been detected in the CBD and reported to his office. “In addition, it appeared that tourists were being targeted. I requested the Economic Development Partnership to look into these trends, which resulted in the establishment of a task team to address the matter.”

He said a campaign centred on increasing awareness around ATM safety had been implemented through leaflets and security presence at key locations, but the task force is working to find long term solutions to these issues.

“Tourism is a major part of our economy, and employs in excess of 200 000 residents.

“We need to ensure we maintain our reputation as a sought after, quality destination. That is why it is critical for us to respond to concerns in respect of this sector with urgency.”

He did not respond to CapeTowner’s questions about the number of members on the task team, or how long the pilot project would last.

The most recent hot spots in the CBD where ATMs were targeted, were at the corner of Long and Hout streets; Long Street between Waterkant and Strand streets; at the corner of Long and Leeuwen streets; on Buitengracht between Mechau and Hans Strijdom streets and in Lower Long Street.

The City of Cape Town also highlighted other spaces in the city which were hot spots, among them Greenmarket Square, St George’s Mall, and Longmarket Street.

The mayoral committee member for area north, Suzette Little, said each tourist who fell prey to this type of crime was a victim who could possibly relate their experiences to others in their own countries.

She said crime of this nature could cause harm to the tourism industry as most tourists consider their safety in the country they visit, a priority.

“Tourists who are robbed are normally traumatised to the extent that they immediately leave the city. This premature departure translates to a loss of thousands of rand for Cape Town.”

She said other ATM scams that the City was aware of were distraction by throwing cash on the floor and stealing the ATM card, and skimming bank cards to create a duplicate.

“There are extremely sophisticated card-skimming devices available. This makes it difficult for people to detect as the device appears to be part of the ATM.”

Ms Little said criminals targeted tourists almost exclusively as the tourists were often not as safety conscious as locals were. “Even though locals are also caught out by these scammers, the target remains tourists. Locals, despite many campaigns around safety at the ATMs, sometimes still let their guard down and allow themselves to be distracted by these criminals.”

The chief executive officer of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, said visitor safety was of great concern.

“We want tourists and locals to be safe and have a crime-free experience in Cape Town. Should any visitor be a victim of crime, they should report this at the police station closest to where the incident happened as they will need a case number to recoup any financial loss. “Such opportunistic crimes are an unfortunate reality across the globe in travel destinations, however, we are seeking to actively reduce the opportunities for crimes such as these to take place.”

Cape Town Tourism also forms part of the task team.

Safety tips

Do not accept help at an ATM.

Do not be distracted when using an ATM.

Use well-lit ATMs and ATMs in malls where possible.

If you feel intimidated, cancel the transaction and walk away.