3 February 2013

Uganda: Are ATMs Safe?

How to protect your money at the ATM:

Since the year began, police estimate bank customers have lost over Shs 1bn in a rapidly expanding Automated Teller Machine (ATM) rip-off that has got some bankers very worried. The ATM con jobs reveal the best and the worst in using the quick and convenient 24-hour ATMs.

According to the police officer in charge of the crime intelligence unit Kampala Metropolitan, Musa Birunda, they are working around the clock to track down the criminals. Birunda's worry follows the recent arrest and conviction of four Bulgarian nationals and five local nationals who were caught stealing from ATMs.

Some in the banking sector have already noticed the scam. Standard Chartered bank alone has lost about Shs 70m on average for the last three years, according to the Fraud Risk Manager at Standard Chartered bank, Abaasi Mawanda.

"Once we find that it is our fault, we compensate the customers. Most losses, however, are due to customer negligence," Mawanda said, before adding: "We advise bank clients to be more careful because ATM fraudsters are increasingly using more advanced technology,"

Standard Chartered bank was the first bank to introduce ATMs in 1997, in a bid to serve more customers.

According to the bank's Corporate Affairs Manager, Cynthia Mpanga, ATMs were a life-saver, as customers had 24-hour access to their funds, as opposed to sticking to the traditional 8am-2pm traditional banking schedule. She acknowledges that the downside to this convenience was the predisposition to crime.

"There is no fraud that is generated by technical problems since most crime is human-driven to defraud others. So, customers need to be careful how they handle their ATM cards. No one should have access to your PIN code," she said.

The police have identified about five methods used by criminals to steal from ATMs crime.

Card skimmer attachments:

In this method, fraudsters insert a light film that is called a 'skimmer' which records the customer's card details without their knowledge, during a transaction. The data is then used to forge a new replica card which they use to withdraw even more cash, usually in the dead of the night. Bankers advise customers to check the card slot to ensure nothing unusual is in the slot.

Missing LED lights above the card slot machine are also a giveaway that the ATM has been tampered with. Mawanda advises people that if they think they have spotted a skimming device, "inform the police or ATM operator immediately, using mobile phones displayed in the ATM machine [room]."

Hidden cameras:

Another method involves the use of hidden cameras on panels above the cash machine or in fake bank leaflet stands on the side of the machine to capture one's PIN (Personal Identification Number) code, during a transaction.

If you have any doubts or concerns about the display of an ATM cubicle, you should report to the bank immediately and move to another machine.

Card swipe:

This is the oldest trick in the book. A fraudster may 'accidentally' drop something at your feet or bump into you in a seemingly innocent way as you wait in queue at the ATM terminal and use the distraction to swap your card and PIN code.

Sometimes they will also encourage you to help them obtain money, feigning ignorance. People with disabilities and the less sophisticated are the biggest victims of this method. Bankers usually advise customers to be extra vigilant, while transacting money at ATM machine.

Card traps:

In this case, a fraudster will place a trap in the card slot and an unsuspecting customer will insert their card. Once it jams, the fraudster will withdraw it later from the slot and use it.

"These are difficult to spot but if your card is retained by the machine, then you should call your bank immediately to block the card," Mawanda warns.

ATM attendants:

Here the fraudsters camp near the ATM and pretend to be helping clients in case of any problem with the ATM transactions. They usually strike a friendship with unsophisticated security guards and use their acquaintance to get to customers. Once a target has been identified, they will easily swap your card after processing your money and also copy your PIN code.

They use this access to rob one of cash, much later. Bankers and the police, who have been tracking ATM fraud, have warned customers to be vigilant at all times.

"Peak times for card trap fraudsters are Friday evenings when lots of people are withdrawing cash as banks will be closed for a few days," Mawanda warns. "Never assume your trapped card is safe over the weekend, call immediately to cancel the card."

Mawanda warns that one should cover their card with their hand to prevent their PIN number being read by hidden cameras and other onlookers. Stand close to the ATM and use your body as a shield and extra security to protect your card and PIN.

"Never give your card to anyone else to use or keep. Remember, as your PIN is only known to you, it is essentially the key to your finances. Mawanda says if one has a problem at the ATM, they should resist any offers of assistance.

"Only insert the card when the ATM prompts you to do so - fraudsters jam ATMs to create confusion with customers," Mawanda says.

Mawanda acknowledges that some banks have introduced mobile banking, to give them more information on transactions across their accounts through SMS alerts.

When all fails, Birunda advises stranded customers to call the police on toll-free lines 0800199199, 0800199299, 0800200019, 0800909199, 0800909299 and 0800200019.

Copyright © 2013 The Observer. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.