JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Blowing up cash dispensers is becoming a favourite tactic of South African bank robbers, and the country’s embattled police as well as its banks are struggling to find a way to prevent it.
Banks report a dramatic rise in this type of crime over the past three years. In the past two weeks alone, five attacks on cash machines have been reported in the coastal city of Durban and police say they have made no arrests.
Yet the surge has industry executives puzzled, since the robbers only rarely succeed in stealing any money.
With the number of reported attacks on automatic teller machines (ATMs) continuing to rise, banks are trying to think of more efficient ways to combat the crime.
The country’s second largest bank, First National Bank (FNB), said on Tuesday it would invest 100 million rand to improve security at its automatic teller machine (ATM) sites, 22 of which have been blown up so far this year, compared with one in 2006.
FNB’s ATM chief executive Michael Arnold said the funds would be invested over three years and would be aimed at fighting a rapid increase in ATM bombings and ATM fraud that has cost the local banking industry millions of dollars.
“Enough is enough. … We’ve tested the route of surveillance and we assure perpetrators that we do have the technology, backing and skills not only to identify them but prosecute them successfully as well,” Arnold told a news conference.
Arnold said it costs FNB up to 300,000 rand to build a single ATM site. Officials at two other South African banks, Absa and Standard Bank, declined to give numbers for ATM attacks.
South Africa has among the world’s highest rates of violent crime, and figures issued last week showed a 118 percent increase in bank robberies in the past year, as well as a sharp increase in cash-in-transit heists.
ATM bombings, however, have raised particular concern.
According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) — which represents the country’s four biggest banks — South Africa has experienced a dramatic rise in ATM bombings in the past three years.
There have been 190 reported cases of ATMs being blown up for money so far this year, up from only five in 2004, 12 in 2005 and 54 in 2006.
“I don’t know really what is causing the increase. It’s difficult to say,” Arnold said.