By Lavern de Vries
A bank has fitted 11 of its ATMs across the Cape Peninsula with pepper spray to deter criminals from tampering with them.
Absa said it had introduced the new technology to help prevent ATM bombings and card skimming after several ATMs around the country were blown up last year.
But the plan is not without its pitfalls.
The pepper spray fitted in an ATM in Fish Hoek was accidentally emitted during a routine maintenance inspection at the weekend.
Three people had to be treated after inhaling a cloud of pepper spray, Absa spokesman Gavin Mageni said.
Mageni said the new technology involved using cameras at high-risk ATMs.
"The cameras are programmed to determine whether anyone may be tampering with the slots, which is what criminals normally tamper with when they are inserting a bombing device or a card-skimming device," he said.
If such suspicious activity was observed, another machine would eject pepper spray, which would disorientate the criminals, giving an armed response unit time to reach the site.
In conjunction with the police, Absa is using the technology at 11 sites, identified as high-risk by branch managers.
The Western Cape was billed as the province with the third highest rate of fraud nationwide last year. In the province, R38,5-million was lost to credit card fraud alone last year.
The province also has the second highest number of hand-held skimming devices retrieved since January last year, with police confiscating 40 devices.
Skimming devices are used to copy the magnetic strip of a card, allowing con men to access bank accounts.
And Cape Town has been described by authorities as being an extra-high-risk area for card skimming because it is such a popular tourist destination.
This month Business Against Crime reported that people using ATMs should be extra vigilant at the end of the month, on Fridays and on public holidays, when they were most likely to be targeted by would-be thieves.
Absa and other major banks have repeatedly warned customers to be careful with their cards so they can avoid being defrauded.