Don't become a financial crime statistic this holiday season

File: Never display cash publicly because criminals are always watching and will follow you looking for a mugging opportunity. Pixabay/Steve Buissinne

JOHANNESBURG - The fast-approaching year-end holiday season is set for a significant spike in crime as criminals capitalise on those in leisure mode and with extra cash in their pockets.

In spite of this year's devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people will still be receiving bonuses or will draw on savings during the traditional high-spending months of November, December and January.

Commenting ahead of the busy holiday season, Aasiya Jamal, Al Baraka Bank's Senior Manager: Electronic and Transactional Banking Division, warned: "We are entering a peak period for theft; an extremely busy consumer period, starting with Black Friday, through the summer sales in December and the January end-of-line specials.

"This is a time when people have more cash in their pockets than usual and a time when they may be easily distracted by crowds, by being at leisure, or by having to deal with the added disruption associated with having children on holiday."

READ: Top tips for budgeting as holiday shopping season starts

Today, more than ever, people need to remain constantly vigilant, especially in their homes, cars and in shopping areas, to avoid becoming victims of robbery and theft.

Jamal added: "Traditionally at this time of year -- and in spite of the prevailing pandemic and its effect on peoples' income -- people have more money available, but also run the risk of becoming complacent about their surroundings and the people in their immediate environs.

"Awareness of what is happening outside your home, around your car and, particularly in shopping malls and retail outlets is critical at this time of year. High-level vigilance is absolutely crucial for your financial safety, especially when using an ATM or conducting in-store point-of-sale or online transactions."

She encouraged people to follow a series of basic financial safety guides so as not to fall prey to criminals.

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"Avoid carrying large sums of cash and always ensure that the cash you have drawn is out of sight and in your wallet or purse before leaving an ATM or banking hall. Never display cash publicly because criminals are always watching and will follow you looking for a mugging opportunity," Jamal stressed.

She added that people should always ensure that their bank cards are signed and that they never divulge personal information, such as passwords and PINs, to anyone at an ATM, via telephone, facsimile or on email. Jamal also stressed the need for people to treat their bank cards as cash and to ensure they are always kept protected.

She indicated: "A bank will never request you to disclose your PIN, so if asked by anyone purporting to be a bank official, you should decline and report the matter. Avoid using an ATM if alone or in confined areas or where the lighting is poor. Always shield the keypad when entering your PIN, so as to prevent those behind you from 'shoulder surfing'.

"In particular, don't allow yourself to be crowded at an ATM and do not allow anyone to 'assist' you with your transaction. Carefully check the ATM environment before contemplating a transaction. If you feel at all uncomfortable by the surroundings or people, rather walk away. Never begin a transaction at an ATM if you feel any level of discomfort," Jamal added.

READ: Criminals take the gap during COVID-19 lockdown

Card skimming remains a problem and consumers completing card transactions should not allow their cards out of their sight at any time.

"If you are making card-based payments at pay points in shops or at filling stations you should insist on inserting and removing your card yourself. Avoid allowing shop assistants or fuel attendants direct access to your card," said Jamal.

She also said that if a card is retained by an ATM, the card-holder should remain at the machine and not allow anyone else access to the machine.

"Immediately contact your bank and ensure confirmation that your card has been blocked before leaving the ATM. If you lose your card or if it has been stolen, immediately report the loss to your bank," Jamal said.


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