Seth and Darla Curtis and their three boys recently returned to Africa. Here is an account from Seth reminding us of the difference in banking there.
Street Smarts: a must in Africa. Update: Security is a big issue here in South Africa, just as it is in other African countries, and it must become a regular part of your routine. I’ve heard about many sophisticated ATM machine scams, and so I am always on the alert when I need to use one. Most are merely cons, out to stealthily and non-confrontationally steal your card & PIN # in some form or another. Others involve brute force, like throwing you in the trunk of the car (sometimes your own) and driving from ATM to ATM, forcing you to enter your PIN # at each, until your card reaches its limit. Many places here will only take cash, so a visit to an ATM or two during your visit becomes inevitable. Yesterday was one of these such days.
I pulled into a fuel station that I knew had a fairly public ATM machine, with plenty of visibility & people around. I waited in line while one man finished up, and took my place in front of the machine. Before putting my card in, I did a quick scan of the machine–no obvious tampering with the card reader slot. (One scam adds a false face to the card reader that will scan & capture your card # while the scammer tries other means to obtain you PIN). But, all was good so far, so I inserted my card and tried to enter my PIN–no go, the key pad wasn’t even registering my keystrokes. I tried a couple more times to no avail, and the next thing I knew, the man who had been in line in front of me was standing beside me unbidden, attempting to help me by offering candid suggestions of what to try and what buttons to push–I was Immediately suspicious–why was he still here for one thing, he had already had his time at the machine. As these thoughts and others ran through my head, I looked more closely at the key pad and noticed that the enter key was depressed more than the other keys.
Upon even closer inspection, I saw that a small piece of wood (like a piece of toothpick) had been forced into the crack surrounding the enter key, forcing it down. My curiosity took over and I pulled out my Leatherman tool, using the knife blade to gently remove the wood. As I did this, the man who had been trying to help me moved back behind the privacy shield. After removing the wood, the enter key popped up, and I was immediately able to enter my PIN # and obtain the cash I requested. As the transaction ended, and the machine spit my card out, I was struggling with what to do next. I was fairly certain that this guy was running a scam at this ATM, where he cleverly disables the machine (with a toothpick in the enter key–brilliant!), and then offers to come help you enter your pin #. Once he has your PIN, it’s scarry to think what happens next in order to obtain the card that is in your possession.
I thought about going into the gas station and alerting security or a gas station attendant, but it was also possible that they could be in cahoots with him themselves, and that nothing would come of that effort. I thought about confronting the man directly, but wasn’t sure if there might be others lurking around that he was working together with. In the end, I opted for a quick and no-frills get away, so I hopped back in my Cruiser and sped away, soberly aware of just how close we come to these kinds of things, and thankful that we have a God who is watching over us, and orchestrating all of our daily encounters!
Let’s remember to pray for the Curtises and other missionaries serving around the world.
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