Friday 23 September 2005

Be safe at the ATM

This week Consumer Watchdog have been thinking a lot about ATM security. This started when we heard from a reader who had been visiting Namibia and tried to withdraw some cash from a bank while she was there. She inserted her card into what she thought was a perfectly normal ATM but it immediately shut down and kept her card. Very sensibly she went straight into the branch and reported that there had been a problem but left her travelling companion and the security guard outside to make sure that the card didn’t emerge while she was inside the bank. She got the bank to cancel the card immediately and was told that no further debits would be allowed using her card.

So far so good?

When she finally got home to Botswana she was horrified to find that after she had reported the incident and stopped the card P2,000 had been taken from her account using a different ATM and there had been 9 failed attempts to use the card, all of which had been declined.

Somehow the crooks managed to get her card from the machine while she was inside the bank and her friend was surrounded by people.

She wrote to her bank demanding her money back and clearly she has a good justification for a refund. She did exactly what she should have done which is to report the incident as soon as she possibly could.

However, at the time of writing, the bank have still not refunded her the stolen amount and are suggesting that they may not be obliged to. You can rest assured that Consumer Watchdog will continue to pursue this one!

Meanwhile we’ve been thinking about the measures we should all take to ensure our money is safe and we don’t get ripped off at ATMs.

Card skimming

Many readers will have read reports in the papers or on TV about the schemes that crooks are using to steal money from us at ATMs. The most commonly reported is known as “card skimming”. The crook places a device over the card slot in the ATM. This reads the details on the card and records or transmits them to the nearby crook. At the same time a tiny camera attached to the ATM machine films you entering your PIN number. By now the crooks have everything they need to make a copy of your card and to go to an ATM and withdraw your money.

As far as Consumer Watchdog is aware this hasn’t actually arrived in Botswana yet but it has been seen in South Africa so no doubt we’re next!

What can we do?

There are some very simple precautions we can take. To begin with we should try to notice anything peculiar about the ATMs we use. Does the machine look the same as the last time you used it? Is it the same as other machines you’ve used? Are there any strange attachments that you’ve not seen before?

A simple precaution is to cover your hand as you enter your PIN. Use your other hand, your purse or your wallet to hide the number as you key it in.

We should all take some very simple precautions whenever we go to an ATM. Don’t allow strangers to help you. If you need help get a family member, trusted friend or perhaps even a bank employee to do it, not a stranger.

Concentrate on what you are doing. Criminals will try and distract you by engaging you in conversation while either they or their companions take your belongings.

Be aware of your surroundings as you approach, use and leave the ATM. Keep an eye open for anyone acting strangely.

If you have ANY concerns, don’t use the ATM. Go to another one or come back later. If you see anything strange report it to the bank immediately. The banks would much rather have a few false alarms than allow crooks to get away with crime.

When you travel, take the emergency phone numbers that you’re given by your bank. If there’s a problem phone them and cancel the card. It will cost you money to make the call but if your card is stolen it could easily cost you a thousand times more! The bank is responsible for everything that happens from the moment you tell them you think that card security has been compromised. Make sure that you keep details of the reference numbers the bank give you and the names of the people you speak to in case there are any disputes later!

Finally, and yes, like so much of our advice this is rather boring, but check your bank statements! Keep the slips the ATMs give you and check them against your statement each month.

We’ve put a few links on our website that go into more detail about ATM fraud. You can see them if you visit, click on Consumer Watchdog and then on Current Campaigns.

This week’s stars!

  • Jackie at Travelwise in Gaborone for being proactive and energetic and for getting the best travel deals in town.
  • Joe and the team at BB Motors in Gaborone for being fantastic, for being prompt, efficient, friendly and above all for doing what they promise they'll do!
  • Joel and Motsumi at BP filling station in Broadhurst for being really friendly and efficient, "it's clear you really want to serve your customers!"
  • Nandos in the African Mall in Gaborone for listening and changing the way they do things when customers ask!
  • The Reach for a Dream Foundation for doing such amazing work, particularly Jacqueline.
  • The staff in the Emergency Room at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone who responded very quickly to an emergency involving a child.

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