The great South African rip-off

Foreign visitors to South Africa face not only being targeted by local crime syndicates, but extortion before they leave the airport – and bribery by local law officials thereafter.

According to the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), sophisticated, well-dressed syndicates, with high-performance get-away vehicles, are targeting tourists when they use local ATMs to withdraw cash.

Citing a police source, TimesLive reported that there has been a large drop in cash-in-transit heists because those syndicates have shifted their operations to ATMs.

It reported that ATM fraud syndicates can earn as much as R60,000 a week at a single cash dispenser, of which there are more than 25,000 countrywide among the the four major banks alone.

“One of the common tactics is for the syndicate member who has ostensibly just drawn money to ‘accidentally’ drop a high-value bank note on the floor to distract you and when your attention is diverted, another member steals your card outright or switches it,” said CCID safety and security manager, Muneeb Hendricks.

Police arrested two South African Airways (SAA) employees and a security guard based at the airport for extortion earlier this month.

One SAA official, and security guard were arrested for charging a passenger $100 to change a flight, while a second official was arrested for supplying passengers with fraudulent passports.

Ian Janse van Vuuren, a project manager at the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, pointed out that a tourist’s ordeal does not end once they leave the airport.

“Figures in our database on tourist victimisation, especially around extortion, are staggering,” he said.

“Extortion is not just occurring at airports. It’s across entire provinces, especially in areas like Mpumalanga, where huge numbers are hit by traffic officials who issue so-called ‘spot fines’, which they say need to be paid to them immediately,” he said.

According to the council, it has received more than 150 complaints over the past two years in Mpumalanga alone.

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The great South African rip-off