ATM safety during festive season

ATM crime is one of the most prevalent financial crimes that occur at this time of year.

Many South Africans will be taking it easy during their well-deserved end-of-year holiday, but one portion of the population will be working as hard as ever, scammers.

The festive season is traditionally big business for fraudsters and thieves, because they are aware that many people would have received their yearly bonuses, and most are distracted by family festivities. Congested and noisy shopping centres of popular holiday towns are the perfect locations for these criminals to commit crimes and then disappear into the crowds.

“ATM crime is one of the most prevalent financial crimes that occur at this time,” says Nitesh Patel, head of customer financial solutions, personal banking at Standard Bank. “While banks work tirelessly throughout the year and even more so during the festive season to ensure that customer accounts remain safe, consumers must remain vigilant.”

According to Patel, the most effective weapon against ATM-based fraud is to be alert and informed. Below, he lists and explains the methods criminals use to access your money, and the steps to be taken to prevent such crimes.

The three most common forms of ATM crime:

Card swapping: Criminals distract you while you are key in your PIN and then swap your card. This is done so quickly that very often you are unaware that you no longer have your own card.

Card skimming: This typically involves tampering with an ATM by placing an additional card reader over the ATM’s. In conjunction with a hidden camera, the fraudsters steal your card details and PIN number.

Vandalism: ATMs are vandalised for two reasons:

To force you to use ATMs in poorly lit, quiet areas where it is easier to commit crime such as card swapping and/or card skimming.

To trap your card in the ATMs card reader, giving you the impression that the machine has “swallowed” your card. As a result the following could happen:

You key in your PIN while being observed from a distance.The criminal offers you the use of a cellphone to cancel your card. They then dial an accomplice who claims to be a bank official and asks you for your PIN.

The criminal advises you to key in your PIN and press the cancel button to retrieve your card. This, of course, won’t happen as your card is stuck. While you are typing your PIN, the criminal memorises it and removes your card using a sharp object once you leave.

Security tips that can prevent ATM-related crimes:

– Never reveal your PIN to anyone and don’t write it down – memorising it will lessen the chances of anybody else gaining access to your account.

– Shield the keypad with your hand when typing your PIN into an ATM.

– Only type your PIN when prompted to do so by the ATM.

– Keep your daily cash withdrawal limit to a minimum.

– Don’t count or expose your money unnecessarily when depositing or withdrawing. Enter and leave the ATM area as quickly as possible.

– Always be on the look-out for criminals and never accept help from strangers, even if they say they are bank employees or security guards. If someone offers to help you, walk away from the ATM.

– Check that the ATM is in a ready and good state. Criminals will typically remove lost card and bank contact details from the ATM to delay you in stopping your card.

– Only use ATMs in well-lit, high-traffic areas. If the lights aren’t working, don’t use that machine.

– Have your bank card ready and in your hands. Opening your wallet or purse can be time consuming and provides a potential thief with easier access to your valuables.

– Make sure the card you get back from the ATM after your transaction is yours. If it’s not, call your bank immediately to cancel your card.

– Finally, cancel your card immediately if it is lost, stolen or retained by the ATM, and please report anything unusual when using an ATM to your nearest branch, the police or your bank’s fraud-prevention line.

“The sooner you report a theft, the greater the chance it can be reversed,” said Mr Patel.

He added that ATM users will always be potential targets for criminals. “But by arming yourself with the right information and by exercising extra caution in high risk situations, you can protect yourself and your family from fraud during the holidays and all year round,” he said.

Do you have more information about the story? Please send us an email to or phone us on 083 625 4114.

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