How to avoid being a victim of ATM theft

By Harper Banks

We have all heard the well-worn line in movies, “Nobody move! This is a robbery!”

Elaborate bank heist films, and their real-life counterparts, have been around for as long as banks have existed - one of the most infamous being the story of South African policeman and heister Andre Stander.

However, in South Africa, ATM theft has become a much larger problem. We have a look at what you can do to stay safe while using an ATM, and we consider a couple of tips that are worth keeping in mind.

Tip: To maximise your bank balance, try our budget calculator.

Stay safe while using ATMs

According to Sbusiso Kumalo, chief marketing officer at African Bank, there were only four bank robberies during 2018/19, and there were zero robberies recorded in 2020.

This means that, as a consumer, you don’t really need to be concerned about being a hostage or a victim of a bank robbery. However, there are many cases of people being robbed while using ATMs.

“Drawing a large amount of cash from an ATM is not recommended,” says Kumalo. “Criminals watch ATMs and target individuals who draw large sums. They follow the unsuspecting person and wait for an opportunity to make their move. This can be in an isolated area or even in a crowded place.”

 

“Using an ATM next to a parking area can also be dangerous,” he notes. “Large car parks give criminals a chance to sit in a car and identify their next target without looking suspicious. They might target a woman alone, a parent with children, or an elderly person.

“Most people do not notice what is going on around them. You should always take note of your surroundings, especially when you are walking back to your car. Check where the car guard or security guard is, and signal for help immediately if you are suddenly approached by a stranger,” he says.

If possible, Kumalo suggests, use secure ATMs that are under video surveillance or inside a bank lobby. He explains that they're less likely to be tampered with.

“Thieves have to take bigger risks when installing skimmers in front of security cameras. You should cover the ATM keypad as you're entering your PIN, just in case there's a hidden camera around,” says Kumalo.

 

What else to keep in mind?

Kumalo notes that it’s much safer to use an ATM during the day than at night, since you are less likely to be robbed during the day. He offers the following tips:

  • Always stay alert. Remember, it’s easy to be followed at a mall without being aware of it.
  • Don’t ask strangers for help, and be cautious if strangers offer to help. They could be trying to distract you in order to get your card or PIN.
  • If anything happens to your card, for example, it’s inexplicably retained by the ATM, report it immediately to your bank and block your card as soon as possible.

“Protect your cards as if they were cash. Never let them out of your sight, and ensure that you get them back after every purchase,” says Kumalo.

He recommends subscribing to your bank's SMS notification services to inform you of any transactional activity on your account.

Think you’re a victim of fraud? Check your credit score to see whether there are signs of this.

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