Card scams are on the rise in South Africa, leaving many completely blindsided and with empty bank accounts, or debts they didn’t sign up for. This is a type of theft where criminals use devices to steal bank card information when you swipe to pay for a bill at a restaurant, at the filling station, or even in a retail store.
Your cards contain your card number, expiration date and card holder name. When it gets swiped, these skimming machines copy all this information, which is then used to make a counterfeit credit card for fraudulent purchases or transactions. We want you to be safe, so we will explain some of the common card skimming scams in South Africa, how to spot them, and the ways in which you can protect yourself.
Common card skimming examples
- Lost or stolen cards
Many of us have lost our bank cards or have had them stolen at one point in our lives. This often happens at the ATM, where criminals will distract you by asking a question or offering help while an accomplice steals or interferes with the bank card you have inserted into the ATM machine. You might think the machine hasn’t returned your card — meanwhile it might have been stolen to make daily withdrawals until you either stop the card or the daily limit has been reached.
- ATM skimming
Card skimming machines can be placed over any card reader, be it an ATM or swipe machines. In this scam, criminals may install a small camera that records your pin when you’re at the ATM. This information is then used to make fake cards and to withdraw cash from your bank account. Another skimming tactic relies on a card swipe mechanism that gets placed over the ATM. This retains your bank card after you have inserted it. After you have left, criminals will then retrieve your bank card to access the funds in your account.
- Restaurant or retail store skimming
When paying at a restaurant, how often do you pay attention to where your card is taken to when a waiter tells you: “let me just go grab another machine”? This is a tactic used by crooked waiters, who are recruited by criminals to skim customers. They use a handheld device to skim your card when paying for a bill. The same can happen in a retail store.
- False card application
Have you ever received a call that your card application was ready for collection or delivery? If you are asked to share your personal information, this is possibly a scam. Criminals will use your card information to create fake cards or to even make online transactions pretending to be you.
- Fraud on your card
Scammers call unsuspecting people pretending to be a credit card issuer warning you about fraudulent activity happening in your account. If they require information from you to verify your account, this might be a scam. They might request your name, account number, PIN or ID number, which is then used to clone your credit card.
How to avoid becoming a victim of card skimming
- Don’t share your card or your PIN with anyone at the ATM.
- Never accept assistance or talk to strangers while you’re busy at the ATM.
- Before using the ATM, be aware of your surroundings. Stay in view of any cameras and be wary of anyone standing too close to you.
- When paying or withdrawing money, hide your PIN number.
- If an ATM looks as if it has been tampered with, don’t use it. Look for an ATM in an area that you can trust – there should be CCTV camera monitoring that ATM.
- At the restaurant or filling station, ensure that your card never leaves your sight. If the person needs to use a different machine, either accompany the worker, or ask them to leave your card while they go.
- Use cash where possible.
- Monitor you bank statements for any unusual transactions.
- Don’t share your personal information with anyone over the phone or on the internet.
What to do if you’re been scammed
If you think you've been a victim of credit card skimming, or you have spotted payments in your bank statement that you don’t recognise, contact your bank. The sooner you report your suspicions, the more you can protect yourself from the liability of this theft, especially if money was stolen from your credit card or retail credit card.