ATM Scams in South Africa

ATM scams are probably the most prevalant petty crimes in South Africa. Fortunately, they’re easy to foil, relying as they do on your letting down your guard, rather than on technical sophistication.

Although rumors of “card readers” and “mini cameras” occasionally circulate – and are usually discredited – by far the greatest number of scams involve (a) an ATM machine “swallowing” your card, and (b) some form of interaction with a person offering or seeking “help” at an ATM.

To foil the scamsters, follow these simple rules:

  • Don’t give out your PIN under any circumstances, ever, ever, ever. And don’t punch in your PIN if someone else is watching – even if your card has been “swallowed”, and even if the person displays the height of courtesy and deference.


  • Cancel your card immediately if you lose possession of it, under all circumstances (i.e., even if it’s been “swallowed”). You can do this inside a bank; some ATMs have card cancellation hotline buttons; and most ATMs post toll-free cancellation hotline numbers. Remember, most cards can be replaced within 48 hours.

  • Play the spy and case the joint before you use an ATM. Is anyone else having a problem with a card? Is anyone loitering? How’s your gut feelnig about this ATM? Is it well-lit, in a public place or attached to a bank, attended by a security guard, etc.?
  • If your card is “swallowed” by the machine, make sure it’s a genuine “swallow”: sometimes scamsters will put a plastic sheath inside the card reader, which will keep your card snug until you leave. Then it’s all theirs!
  • Become a hard-ass during your transaction. Avoid small talk, don’t render or accept assistance, and discourage approaches.
  • Best ATMs to use for foreign cards: click here.