News and Views

Uganda: How thieves take money from ATMs

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KAMPALA, UGANDA- Anamariya Nattabi, 52, sold her plot of land at Ush15 million (about $6250). She opened up an account in one of the major banks in Uganda, such that the buyer of her land can make all payments through the bank and, for safety reasons.

Never did she know that her money would either not be safe. After making three consecutive withdraws of about Ush200,000 with assistance of her granddaughter, she thought she had mastered the art of operating an Automated Teller Machine, so no more assistance from her granddaughter was required when withdrawing her money.

But, on a fateful day, Nattabi went to an ATM machine to withdraw money. She was holding her ATM card together with her pin code written somewhere. However, on reaching the ATM she forgot the procedures and sought for assistance from a man who was in the line waiting to withdraw either.

This man “helped” her to withdraw Ush150,000 but, he got wind of her pin code. She thanked the man and went away.

A few weeks later, Nattabi came back again to the machine to withdraw money, this time with her granddaughter, but the machine couldn’t give them money as there was no credit left. They sought for assistance from the bank counter, only to be informed that after her withdrawing the Ush150,000 on that day at about 1100hrs, “she had been coming back several times and withdrew the remaining balance.”

She tried to prove her innocence but the bank data clearly showed it. She couldn’t remember that one day she gave out her pin code to a stranger.

The banking sector in Uganda is yet faced with a new trend of theft, where fraudsters and robbers are targeting bank customers’ money from the Automated Teller Machines through card swapping and card skimming techniques.

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Card swapping means exchanging a customer’s card with another one which does not belong to him/her and fraudsters usually pose as ATM attendants or helper.

“Once the customer accepts help, the fraudster asks them to punch in their PIN. During the process the fraudster confuses the customer and exchanges the card with a wrong one. Thereafter the fraudster continues to transact on the customer’s account.”

This vice, according to Mr. Fabian Kasi, the managing director of Uganda’s Centenary Bank, is done by fraudsters both in Uganda and outside the country.

Fraudsters can as well use card skimming techniques where a card skimming device is installed at an ATM to download data on any card used during the time the device is on the ATM.

“A small camera is also installed to capture the PIN used. Once some cards are skimmed, the fraudsters make duplicate cards from the devices which are then used to transact on the victim’s accounts,” says Kasi.

Bank ATM theft is a growing problem in Uganda as many customers do complain to banks over money loss from their accounts under unknown circumstances.

“ATM attacks can be broken down into three types: theft of customer’s bank card information or card skimming, attacks on the ATM’s IT infrastructure and physical attacks at ATMs.

What customers can do to prevent ATM fraud?

Kasi explains that bank ccustomers should keep their ATM cards and PIN numbers separately and should ask for help if they need one from bank personnel only. “They should report any suspicious items/ people in the ATM to designated people,” he notes.

Mawanda believes that informing customers to stay alert and watch who and what’s around them when transacting at the ATMs, not to use the ATM if they notice the machine may have been tampered with and  if they feel the ATM is not working normally, they should press the “cancel” key and withdraw their cards.

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