TravelTo South Africa 3

ATM fraud and credit card skimming – Protect yourself!

ATM fraud

ATM fraud is always a concern when travelling, not only in South Africa but worldwide!

Those of us who have had their credit card cloned in ATMs located at airports internationally will know that card skimming or card cloning can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Whenever you present your card for payment you run the risk of being skimmed. However, the majority of skimming incidents in South Africa are recorded around ATMs and, to a lesser extent, at retail merchants when bank cards are presented for payments.

What is card skimming?

Card skimming or card cloning uses a special device to copy bank customer details stored on the magnetic strip (brown/black strip at the back) on a debit or credit card.

The customer and card information that has been stolen is often used to manufacture counterfeit (duplicate) cards which criminals use to make fraudulent transactions on a victim’s account.

ATM fraud comes in the guise of various scams to trick unsuspecting ATM users and skim their bank cards:

1. Card skimming and shoulder-surfing customer pins

Perpetrators of ATM fraud approach unsuspecting ATM users prior to or after concluding a transaction and claim to work for the bank. The target is advised to ‘re-activate’ their cards by swiping the card through a ‘card reactivating device’.

The ‘card reactivating device’ is actually a handheld skimming device. This type of skimming requires accomplices to loiter around the ATM shoulder surfing for the customer PINs. The perpetrators use the stolen card information to manufacture a counterfeit card and match the customer PIN to the new card to make fraudulent transactions.

2. ATMs that are tampered with or damaged

Customers should never use ATMs that seem damaged or tampered with because this creates an opportunity for ATM fraud to occur.

When a customer is confronted with an ATM that is damaged or tampered with, the perpetrator will approach the customer and use social engineering tactics to take the customer’s ATM card. The customer is often escorted to another ATM in order to assist the customer to make a withdrawal.

The card is then secretively skimmed on the way to the second ATM with a handheld skimming device. The victim is handed back their card without noticing that it has been skimmed. The interaction between the perpetrator and the customer creates trust and the perpetrator often stands next to the customer while the transaction is conducted. The perpetrator will memorise the customer’s PIN when it is keyed in.

The unsuspecting customer will only realise they have fallen victim to a scam when money is withdrawn from their account.

3. Card skimming at retail merchant points of sale

Criminals often collude with staff working at retail outlets such as waiters or cashiers. The card fraud perpetrators provide business staff with handheld skimming devices and reward them for skimming customers’ cards.


Tips to avoid becoming a victim of ATM fraud or card skimming theft

ATM fraud – Safety Tips

  • Never give your card to someone at an ATM for any reason.
  • Never let anyone assist you at an ATM, even if they appear to be a bank official or security personnel.
  • Beware of people standing close to you when you are concluding transactions at an ATM.
  • Ensure you hide your pin when keying it into an ATM.
  • Never use an ATM that looks tampered with or damaged.
  • Always use an ATM in a well-lit area.
  • If possible, use an ATM that is monitored by a CCTV camera.
  • Always cover your fingers when typing in your pin number.
  • Pull and prod that ATM card slot and pin pad a bit if you’re feeling up to it.
  • Wiggle your card when you insert it to thwart the skimming or shimming device.
  • Don’t use random-brand, standalone ATMs; stick to ones that are physically attached to a bank. Even if you’re on a trip and want the convenience of fast cash, it’s better to seek out proper ATMs.
  • Protect your contactless card with a blocking sleeve in your wallet.
  • Pay attention to your credit card statement, if your card has been compromised through ATM fraud, the activity may not always be in damagingly huge amounts, but could be a sequence of smaller transactions.

Shopping Credit Card fraud – Safety Tips

  • Ensure your card never leaves your sight. Most restaurants and shops have portable card swipe machines so there should be no reason for your card to leave your presence. If the person needs to use a different machine always accompany that person.
  • Ensure that your card is not swapped for another card after paying.
  • Use cash instead of your card if you have any suspicions.
  • Monitor your bank statements for any unusual transactions.
  • If married, reconcile your account transactions with your spouse on a regular basis.

Source: The Banking Association of South Africa

For other tourism safety tips when visiting South Africa, click here.

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