Six ways to protect yourself from ATM card skimming and swopping

OCTOBER 8, 2015

Port Elizabeth residents, as in any major town, are urged to be extra vigilant when it comes to withdrawing money at ATMs dotted around the city. This is as more and more incidents of ATM card cloning and swapping are emerging – perhaps pointing to a crime syndicate operating in the Metro.

Over the past few weeks, incidents have been reported from Summerstrand, Central, Newton Park, to Uitenhage and even at the Port Elizabeth International Airport. With the festive season upon us, criminals will also be looking to capitalise as many people let their guard down.

Most of the recent incidents show a strikingly similar trend or modus operandi, which is used by the criminals to con their victims – local residents, students and foreign tourists, out of their hard earned moneys. There is always a person who approaches the victims whilst they are transacting and manages to distract them while they are transacting.

Either they offer help, find an excuse to re-use the ATM whilst their victim has inserted their card or do anything to get their ‘mark’ distracted.

Local police are reportedly investigating some of these incidents and agree that there have been a spike in the past six months.

Compounding this problem is that on the black market, skimming devices used by the criminals cost as little a few thousand Rands making them accessible to anyone.

Still, victims will have a hard to time trying to get banks to reimburse them of the amounts stolen as one would obviously need to prove beyond doubt that it was the bank’s fault.

Video shows how criminals operate at ATMs - video courtesy of Tribe2Tribes on Youtube.

So how do you prevent ATM cloning and swapping?

1. Cover your pin code with your hand

It’s a surprisingly simple but effective measure. While transacting at an ATM cover up so that even if there are small hidden cameras, they cannot pick up your pin code. In most cases, ATM thieves might have your card details but without your pin, they can't access your account.

This method is also useful when transacting at a Point of Sale in supermarkets or restaurants.

2. Stand close to the ATM

By standing close to the ATM and using your body as a shield, you are adding extra security to protect your Card and PIN. You also prevent ‘shoulder surfing’ from criminals.

3. NEVER… again NEVER accept help at ATMs unless you are 100% sure it’s the bank's official

Do not accept assistance, guidance or allow anyone to interfere with your transaction. Be careful, criminals are also smarter nowadays and sometimes pose as bank officials by offering assistance so that they can interfering with your transaction and con you.

Don't allow anyone to call you back to the ATM after transacting, requesting you to insert your card into the ATM again - fraudsters use this technique to confuse customers who've already finalised their transactions and are busy walking away from the ATM.

Also do not allow anyone to come back to the ATM for anything just as you begin transacting. If you are too polite – just IMMIDIATELY cancel your transaction and walk away.

4. Be observant, use familiar ATMs and limit your visits

Be sharp-eyed about your surroundings when transacting at the ATM. Leave the ATM immediately if you feel unsafe or when suspicious people are loitering around the ATM. Use ATMs you are familiar with and do not use ATMs in secluded areas or late at night.

If the ATM looks suspicious – it has probably been tampered with, find another ATM somewhere. This also means be familiar with how your bank’s ATM looks like. Check if the card scanner slot has not been tampered with by giving it a wiggle. Often skimming devices are false panels that can be easily detected this way as they will come lose. Never force your card into an ATM slot!

Only insert your bank card when the ATM prompts you to do so. Criminals often jam ATMs to create confusion with customers.

5. Minimise your risk

Control your exposure to risk by having lower daily ATM limits. Why have a daily ATM limit of R20 000 when you usually spend R1000 a day?

If your card is trapped or swallowed by an ATM, do not leave the ATM. Call the bank card stop number immediately to cancel the card before leaving the ATM.

Do not accept an offer to use someone else's phone when phoning your bank to cancel your card.

6. Check bank balances frequently

Given the short window period for reporting fraud, it pays to check your account frequently. Sign up for withdrawal alerts and notice any unusual withdrawals. Always have your bank's lost or stolen card call centre number with you!

Be watchful of payments made at busy restaurants, bars and stores. At these places - DO NOT LET YOUR CARD OUT OF SIGHT!

What should I do if I suspect my card has been skimmed?

Whether skimmed, stolen or lost:

  • Please immediately phone the FNB Card Cancellations Call Centre: 0800 110 132 or +27 11 369 1189 (international).
  • You can also phone the Visa Global Customer Care Assistance number: 0800 990 475
  • You can cancel your Debit Card at any FNB ATM by simply entering your ID number and the PIN number of the last debit card used.
  • Report the card immediately by calling the Standard Bank lost card call centre on 0800 020 600 from South Africa or +27 11 299 4114 from overseas. The lost card call centre is open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
  • They recommend that you record your card number in a safe place, as it will help identify the card should you need to cancel it.
  • For ABSA call 0800 11 11 55 or +27 (0) 11 501 5050 from abroad.
  • For Capitec call 0860 10 20 43 or +27 21 941 1377 from abroad.
  • For Nedbank call 0860 555 111 International dialling: +27 11 710 4000.