One of the things I had to deal with was the high crime rate in my South Africa travels. That was especially true in Johannesburg. The stories heard are not exaggerations. On Saturday July 25, 1998 I went to an ATM machine near the Rosebank flea market for some quick cash. I tried to put the card into the slot and it would not go in. Just then a guy walks up to me and says that I need to insert the card at a different angle and takes the card from my hand and pushes the card into the slot. He then pointed to the keyboard telling me to enter the pin number. This happened in a mater of seconds. The criminal element wants you to act fast and not take the time to think. I could see on the ATM screen the message that this machine was temporarily closed. However, the man kept telling me to enter the pin number and was pointing at the keyboard with the hand he had used to put the card in the slot. I almost instantly could tell that he was palming my credit card just like a magician would do. He had pretended to put my card in the machine and now all he needed was my pin number. As he started telling me again to enter my pin I reached under his hand and took my card back. He said some more stuff that I could not make out and when I took a step back from him he walked away. I watched him cross the street to another machine and then saw a second man that was working with him. The idea was that he would stay with me pretending to help me until he could get me to enter my pin number in front of him. He could then pass my card off to his partner who would use my card to withdraw cash. I would be left believing that my card was still in the faulty machine. This guy was very slick. It gave me a real thrill to know that I had beaten his scheme, however, it is also a little unsettling realizing that he was able to actually get the card from my hand with absolutely no effort. I might mention that I checked to make sure he had not taken my shoes!
It really is hard to say who to watch out for. The guy was clean cut and smartly dressed (thanks to someones credit card). He was quick and was working the street like a machine. The vendors of the flea market know who these people are but say nothing. In fact I told the fellow working the stand next to the ATM that I had beaten the scheme and he confessed that he knew but could say nothing or they would target him.
My second trip to South Africa in Feb 1999 did not go without the criminal element taking notice once again. This time a would be thug tried to persuade me to follow him behind a bank building were he informed me I could find an ATM. What I would have found was a lump on my head and less my wallet, watch and shoes. I might look like a sucker but at least I don’t always act like one!
During my fourth trip in July 1999 a gentleman across the hall from me was murdered in his room overnight. I woke up to the police sitting outside his room and question people that saw him in the bar that night.
To stay safe all you have to remember is to avoid being alone and near a bank! Actually just use common sense and do not accept help from strangers, especially when it comes to your ATM card. The best advice is not to be by yourself and watch out for one another. In Johannesburg do not stay out after dark or after 11pm, which ever you feel is more acceptable of the two! The locals know were it is safe to go and the routes you can take. Of course that isn't always a guarantee but it helps increase the odds of staying safe.