Task force goes to the ATM

2017-06-13 09:07

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ATM scammers are getting more and more sophisticated in their attempt to con unsuspecting tourists.

This has emerged via a task force created by the provincial government specifically to investigate the province’s increasing ATM fraud, and which is using the Cape Town CBD as a pilot site to find the best solutions to roll out across the city and province.

The task force was set up earlier this year by Alan Winde, provincial economic development and tourism minister. Members include the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), police, City of Cape Town Law Enforcement, the provincial Department of Community Safety, Cape Town Tourism and representatives of the hospitality industry, banking fraud investigators and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Winde says: “Tourism is a major part of our economy, and employs more than 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. An increase in ATM crime was detected in the CBD and reported to my 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.”

The initial campaign focused on increasing awareness around ATM safety through leaflets and security presence at key locations.
Muneeb Hendricks, CCID safety and security manager and a member of the task force, has revealed that one of the latest scams involves convincing tourists they need a special street parking permit for hire cars that can only be obtained from specific ATMs.

“We have found that, because fewer visitors appear to be using ATMs in public areas, the con men 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 con men know are not being as heavily monitored by security.”

Cape Town Central Community Policing Forum chairperson Nicola Jowell says the organisation is aware of an “exceptionally worrying number of ATM crime incidents”.

“There are a number of ATMs in our precinct that are targeted by these syndicates and are terrible hotspots for the crime. The criminals are organised, well planned, and professional and work in groups with a number of spotters and decoys around. It is lucrative business for them with yields from each incident running into the tens of thousands. In addition to that it is relatively low risk given that they do not have to carry large amounts of items away from a crime scene such as a house break-in. The suspects are repeat offenders and are prolific until they are caught but sadly the syndicates are so large that new members fill the void immediately,” she says.

“The targets are generally tourists who fall prey to these scams a lot easier, often don’t open cases and leave the country before any prosecution happens should an arrest be made.”

Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy says visitor safety is of great concern to the organisation.

“We want tourists and locals to be safe and have a crime-free experience in Cape Town. Cape Town Tourism is a member of the ATM task team, as we endorse measures put into place that safeguard visitors and locals against crime,” he says.

The most recent hotspots in the city centre where ATMs were hit are at the corner of Long and Hout streets, in Long Street between Waterkant and Strand streets, at the corner of Long and Leeuwen, on Buitengracht between Mechau and Hans Strijdom streets, and in Lower Long Street, according to Hendricks.

He also notes that the CCID was called to the scene of about 10 incidents of ATM fraud in the area each week.

“The CCID’s security department was able to disrupt ATM fraud behaviour very effectively in the CBD during the most recent festive season with a campaign we ran on the ground around ATMs using signage warning the public in no uncertain terms that they could be targeted by scammers at any time. We also developed effective, one-page A5 brochures that our public safety officers distributed on the streets, and which we supplied to hotels at no charge.”

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