Beware: SA bank card limits don’t apply overseas

Shortly after sunrise on 2 February 2013, Elroyd Blake received a batch of SMSes from his bank that would make anyone’s blood run cold.

Large sums of cash was being deducted from his bank account and he could only watch has more than R41,000 disappeared over the course of 12 transactions, purportedly made at Bloomingdales #53 in New York.

Blake and his Absa Platinum Cheque Card were in South Africa, however, and on top of that he said his daily limit for point of sale (POS) purchases was R2,000. How was this happening?

According to Blake, he called Absa’s fraud department immediately, who directed him to call the Stop Card number instead.

Absa told him that his card had been skimmed and gave him a reference number.

Absa Platinum Cheque card
Absa Platinum Cheque card

Queried about the case, Absa confirmed that the transactions in question were fraudulent, and explained how it was possible for someone to exceed Blake’s daily limit.

“International limits for point of sale (POS) & ATM differ from a banking customer’s local card limit,” Absa said. “The global daily limit for international transactions are R30,000 for POS & R5,000 for ATM.”

According to Absa, international limits differ from local limits to accommodate interchange demand. “The fact that international limits are different to local limits are indicated on our terms & conditions,” the bank said.

Blake’s bank statements confirm that the transactions were in fact POS purchases.

This still raises the question: how did the perpetrators manage to put through transactions to the value of R41,734.01?

Absa NotifyMe SMS Bloomingdales #53 New York
Absa NotifyMe SMS Bloomingdales #53 New York

Blake also remarked that the timing was suspicious. He said that he never has large amounts of money in this account as debit orders going off early in the month typically leave him with a small balance of cash after the 2nd.

Days before he cashed out a policy, which after some expenses left him with a much larger than normal balance in his account, Blake said.

Commenting about how it was possible to exceed the R30,000 POS limit, Absa explained that fraudsters can change bank limits online once they access a customer’s account. “We have referred the matter to be investigated, to mitigate risk in future,” Absa said.

This suggests that the fraudsters not only skimmed Blake’s card, but also gained access to his Internet banking account from where they were able to change his daily transaction limits.

Elroyd Blake
Elroyd Blake

What to do if card fraud happens to you

If you notice discrepancies on your statement or balance enquire, or receive SMSes about transactions you didn’t do, Absa advises customers to contact “Stop Card” immediately or visit their nearest branch to place a hold on the card.

This hold prevents any subsequent authorisations, Absa said.

“Customers are encouraged to register for Absa’s Notify Me service, that will alert them of any transaction on their accounts.”

Prevention is better than cure

Absa went on to say that it is important that customers prevent fraudsters from getting their hands on their cards and PINs, offering the following safety tips:

  • Customers must ensure that they always keep their PIN safe;
  • When using a card at ATM or POS, always place your hand over the PIN pad;
  • Don’t let anybody distract or disturb you while doing an ATM or POS transaction and don’t let anybody assist you with your transaction;
  • Don’t let anybody take your card away from you (eg. paying at restaurants);
  • Don’t share your PIN with anybody;
  • Don’t write down your PIN anywhere;
  • Use a PIN number that’s not easily obtainable (eg. don’t use first 4 characters of ID number);
  • Customers should register for Notify Me to ensure they are notified of any transaction on their account.

Asked whether customers in such situations will have their money returned, Absa said that refunds will be subject to an investigation by Absa’s fraud department.

“Each case is investigated on an individual basis,” Absa said.

Blake confirmed that the bank refunded the R41,734.01 that was stolen from his account.

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Beware: SA bank card limits don’t apply overseas