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October 14th, 2016 by

By now, we’ve all heard of at least one person we know being a victim of card skimming. You know, where money gets withdrawn or transferred out of their account without their knowledge or involvement? Sometimes the fraudulent transaction can happen on an entirely different continent, which is what’s recently been happening across Japan.

Earlier this year, eNCA reported that, in South Africa, card fraud costs consumers R7 million annually. Checkpoint’s Busisiwe Gumede interviewed a career criminal operating in Daveyton, Johannesburg, who reportedly makes up to R15-thousand in just four hours. All he does is steal cards, pins, and clone credit and cheque cards – what’s known as card skimming.

Common Errors That Make Us Vulnerable To Card Fraud

The perpetrator admits stealing money through card-related crimes since 2008, due to not being able to keep up with his peers materialistically. He says criminals like him never work alone. They normally go out in groups of two or three, and work in shifts from 04h00 in the morning until 09h00. Then it’s time for a break – sometimes a nap – and then back to work at around 15h00.

He also reports having no biases against their targets.

”Whether a mother, child, or granny we don’t discriminate… Even white people, Indians. We don’t choose,” says the fraudster.

Methods Used to Skim Cards

First National Bank (FNB) shares information on their website’s security portal about card skimming and how it works. The bank reports that there are two ways for criminals to gain access to your account funds.

With a ‘Grabber’

One is through “the copying of encoded information from the magnetic stripe of a legitimate card, making use of a card reader, for fraudulent purposes, and utilising the data to encode counterfeit, lost, or stolen cards.” This method makes use of sophisticated devices, or what the Daveyton fraudster calls a ‘grabber’.

The hand-held devices are small and easy to conceal in a criminal’s hand without the consumer even seeing it. This happens during a situation where the card leaves your hand, i.e. at a cash register, when you’re paying for petrol, at a restaurant, etc.


The second method happens at an ATM where you can be approached during a transaction. The fraudster distracts you, and gets hold of your card to swipe through the skimming device or ‘grabber’. Alternatively, they watch you to put your pin into the machine, and steal or swop your card.

FNB warns: “In other instances, a card skimming device is placed over the card slot, copying the card information once the card is inserted into the ATM. A small camera is hidden to capture the PIN”.

The Financial Impact Of Card Skimming

If you are a victim of card skimming, banks usually investigate the case of fraud, once you’ve lodged a case at your local police station. Depending on who you bank with, you can expect to be reimbursed before you’re notified of the crime, or it can take weeks.

In the case where it takes weeks to get your money back, making sure there’s money in the bank for any debit orders, is on you. You may even have to resort to an instant loan to cover yourself and your expenses in the interim. Most banks are insured against any losses due to fraudulent activity – whether credit/cheque cards, debit cards, or CNP (card not present) crimes. But where the theft results in defaults on your monthly instalments, the resulting bank charges are for your account. Furthermore, debit defaults do affect your credit rating negatively. 

10 Tips To Avoid Falling Victim To Card Skimmers

As is normally the case, prevention is better than cure. Here are 10 tips to avoid being a victim of card skimming.

  1. Always cover the keypad when entering your pin.
  2. Activate your SMS notifications for any and all transactions on your bank account, so you can notify the bank immediately of any suspicious activity
  3. Don’t accept any assistance at the ATM. Fraudsters sometimes jam the card slot purposefully to offer ‘help’.
  4. Insert your card at the ATM only when prompted to do so.
  5. Lower your daily ATM limit to what you usually spend.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings and leave the ATM immediately if you feel unsafe or suspicious of bystanders.
  7. Pull on the card scanner slot at the ATM to make sure it’s secure. Skimming devices are sometimes false panels and will come lose.
  8. Use an ATM in a well-lit and high-traffic area.
  9. Never force a card into the ATM slot.
  10. If your card is swallowed by an ATM, call the bank to stop the card immediately, do not leave the ATM, and do not accept an offer to use someone else’s phone to call the bank.

Bonus Tip: Always watch anyone who handles your card closely. Fraudsters can be anyone from the petrol attendant, to a barman (or lady), to the cashier at PicknPay.