Watching the watchers

September 2010 Integrated Solutions

Anyone seeing a balaclava-clad, gun-wielding individual near an ATM (automatic teller machine) would abandon all thoughts of drawing money and get out of the area at speed. But, says Tasha Smith, marketing manager for Elvey Security Technologies, the reality about ATM criminals is that they are either conspicuous by their absence or they appear in the guise of good Samaritans, offering help to users struggling with their transactions.

“Although the banks have launched countless campaigns to warn the public of ATM crime, the perpetrators keep a step ahead owing to their ability to deploy new technology and re-invent and refine their modus operandi,” she warns.

According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), ATM fraud is ongoing, with counterfeit cards and card skimming taking poll position as the most prevalent of this type of fraud. In the first half of 2009, SABRIC figures showed that counterfeit card fraud accounted for 60% of overall industry card fraud. In terms of card fraud per province, Gauteng accounted for 49%, the Western Cape 22,5% and KwaZulu-Natal 15%.

Card skimming, says Smith, has reached epic proportions on the back of constantly evolving technological advances among international syndicates, which in turn pass their skills and knowledge on to the locals. Jan Kruger, head of card fraud management at ABSA, says card skimming devices are today custom-manufactured to fit over the card slots of specific makes and models of ATMs. They are so good, he notes, that an untrained eye will probably not notice the device’s presence over the ATM card slot.

Despite the banking industry’s ongoing implementation of countermeasures, these crimes continue to occur daily throughout the world, leaving a trail of victims in their wake, says Smith. “While there is a heightened level of awareness among the public which is manifesting in a growing avoidance of remote or isolated ATMS as well as more regularly declined refusals of help, a simple 'no' may not be enough to deter the criminally inclined who use card trapping devices in ATMs. As the name suggests, these devices are designed to trap users’ cards, whereupon the criminal in the guise of a good Samaritan then appears to offer assistance. Speedily and cunningly obtaining both the user’s PIN and card, the thief has disappeared and withdrawn funds by the time the user realises his card has, in fact, not been swallowed by the ATM.”

A potential solution

In true 'set a trap to catch a thief' style, CCTV (closed circuit television) technology is being successfully used to counter ATM crime, says Valerie Bingham, product manager for Elvey. Defined by a high performance DVR (digital video recorder), Linux operating system and ATM-integrateable embedded microprocessor, she says it is being widely used around the globe to disclose fraud and vandalism as well as improve the security of bank cards during cash deposits and withdrawals.

Aware of the potential issues around recording sensitivity and the compromising of PIN codes, Bingham says ATM DVR technology has evolved to the point where it can guarantee user privacy. She explains: “The DVR allows for the implementation of four self-defined privacy masks for each camera, which add significantly to both the system’s and the user’s PIN integrity. This would only be compromised in the event that the police wanted to view footage in an attempt to identify and track criminals. And even so, the PIN keypad and the ATM screen would be masked so that only footage of the card jamming or skimming devices and the faces of the perpetrators could be viewed.”

Capable of supporting up to four cameras with audio, the system’s SXGA 1280x1024 resolution enables security professionals to monitor suspects’ behaviour and body language even before they approach the ATM. “Behavioural pattern identification often makes it possible to spot suspects without the use of monitoring equipment,” she explains. “It also allows us to catch operators in the act of installing card jamming devices or using other people’s cards.”

The technical lowdown

H.264 video compression algorithm makes it possible to store large amounts of data on one of four allocated SATA hard drive slots. Dual encoding stream technology allows for higher picture quality or data density enhancement. Says Bingham: “Designed to meet the growing demand for superior ATM protection, this nifty DVR also offers a host of other features, including hard disk hibernation, fault alarm and redundancy, for the protection of the hard drive. The DVR also boasts an image transfer of up to 625 TV line at 50 frames per second.”

Upon trigger, the DVR will begin recording while simultaneously instructing a nearby PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) camera to focus on the movement. It will also e-mail the information to the security personnel monitoring the ATM site. “In cases of ATMs in high risk areas or those which have experienced previous disturbances, the system can easily be adapted to perform remote monitoring,” she says. “Monitoring takes place through the use of live video feeds from all four cameras, which record all activity in the area. In the event of an incident, the police will immediately be notified so that they can respond and hopefully arrest the suspects. In addition, security personnel can log in remotely and playback video feeds, change system settings, download recorded files and log information.

“Another advantage of this technology is that searching for events is simpler and easier than ever before. Security personnel can search according to motion, date or time which is accurate to the second.”

For more information contact Elvey Security Technologies, +27 (0)11 401 6700,,


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