How to protect yourself from a bank scam this holiday season

The mid-year holiday is a great time for a break, but will demand higher levels of cash and card action than normal to keep families and friends entertained, prompting the need to guard against criminals demanding your funds first.

Holiday periods traditionally see a spike in cash withdrawals from ATMs and banks as people spend more than usual on entertainment and other activities, according to Al Baraka Bank’s Senior Manager: Transactional Banking and Customer Service, Aasiya Jamal.

"People tend to carry more money at holiday times, but equally, because they are at leisure, they often let their guard down, providing criminals with an unfortunate advantage. Simply put, holidays bring with them an increase in cash and bank card-related crime," said Jamal.

Scams which are most likely to affect clients of any bank include ATM fraud, card fraud, card skimming theft, cash theft, the changing of banking account details, cheque fraud, identity and personal information fraud, phishing cons, point-of-sale theft  and vehicle account rescue swindles.

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), a non-profit company formed to assist in combating organised bank-related crimes warns that in addition to ATM card-swopping, phishing and identity theft remain rife.

Phishing is where emails are sent to users requesting that they click on a link which then directs them to a ‘spoofed’ website. These sites fool users into believing that they are legitimate and are used to obtain, verify and update contact details and other sensitive financial information. The public is urged not to click on links in unsolicited emails, no matter how genuine they might appear.

The organisation further stressed that criminals take every opportunity to secure personal information in order to impersonate their victims. Although this does not guarantee their access to banking profiles or accounts, good identity management practices should always be followed to mitigate the risk of impersonation. People should share information very selectively and only on a need-to-know basis.

SABRIC Chief Executive Officer, Kalyani Pillay said, "If something seems ‘off,’ or just doesn’t feel right, pay attention. Don’t just assume that requests for information are legitimate".

Jamal added, "The growing number of ATM users across the country has encouraged criminals to conceive and implement a number of tricks. Users of ATMs should, therefore, always be on the look-out for card skimming and swopping, ATM ‘shoulder surfing’ and card trapping in machines. Take precautions so as not to become an ATM fraud victim."

She said a number of tips exist to avoid becoming a victim of fraud or theft when using an ATM.

These included only using machines located in well-lit areas, avoiding transacting where suspicious-looking individuals are loitering, having one’s card ready when approaching a machine, avoiding using a machine which appears damaged and refusing help from strangers at ATMs by rather awaiting intervention by bank officials.

 Additional safety ideas involved shielding the keypad with one’s hand or body when entering a PIN, avoiding distractions, never divulging one’s PIN to another individual – inclusive of bank officials and the Police – pressing the cancel key and retrieving the card if it is believed the ATM is not functioning correctly, using the identified help-line to contact the bank should a card become stuck or fail to be returned, or if somebody interferes with the machine or user during a transaction.

"Most importantly, people should ensure that both their cash and card have been secured in their purses or wallets before moving away from an ATM. Wherever possible, however, it is recommended that one use a card to make payments – especially where larger sums are involved – although it is absolutely critical not to lose sight of one’s card whilst transactions are being completed," said Jamal.

She also advised that one should make sure the back of bank cards have been signed, in spite of the fact that signatures on cards no longer play a major role in transactions as a result of Chip and PIN technology. 

Bank clients should attempt to use ATMs the surrounds of which they have become familiar, making it easy to identify anything that appears out of place. She also recommended that clients subscribe to bank-based SMS account activity notifications, immediately report and block lost or stolen cards and exercise extreme caution when using free Wi-Fi in public places, avoiding access to sensitive sites, such as banking sites, when using unsecure Wi-Fi.

"Holiday periods should be a pleasure, don’t let the criminal element put a damper on your enjoyment by failing to safe-guard your finances… always remain alert," Mrs Jamal stress


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