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BEWARE OF TRAILING, SMASH AND GRAB ATTACKS

By PAUL LUO-BAZ FRAUD PREVENTION COMMITTEE MEMBER 

RECENTLY the Banking Industry has witnessed a resurrection and increase in smash and grab attacks on customers. Simply put, attackers attend banking halls on the pretext of being intending account opening or transacting customers. For the most part such individuals join queues but never really get to the counters or make any meaningful transactions.

What their aim is at that time is to see customers drawing substantial amounts of money and alert their colleagues outside the branch. For this reason, these are called “Spotters”. So, when an unsuspecting customer makes a large drawing Spotters then describe his appearance and apparel usually by SMS or short call to the colleagues sitting in close proximity to bank exits. The customer is then trailed and at the earliest opportunity where the customer leaves their vehicle, they break in and get away with the funds.

This kind of activity is rife in some southern African countries where Custom’s declarations require disclosure of foreign exchange or valuables a person is carrying on arrival. In these scenarios there is collusion between the Customs or Immigration staff at the Airport and the attackers who linger at the airport terminal exits awaiting such information. Trailing commences upon exit of the target until such time that there is opportunity to attack. In cases of trailing from airports a show of force is normally used, and resistance is not advised.

In trailing from banking facilities, force is seldom used save for the actual breaking into the car. This however is not to imply that force cannot be used. You are best advised not to resist the attackers to ensure your safety in the event force is employed on you.

Cashiers and Business owners are also attacked on their way to the bank. In these scenarios no spotters are used, and the information of the funds being moved for banking comes from within the businesses it is generated. A disgruntled employee perhaps due to being uncertain of continued tenure of office, poor remuneration or merely a criminally inclined employee may connive with attackers and inform them precisely which route, when, what vehicle and bank/branch that funds are being delivered. Trailing commences within close proximity of the business premises.

The question is how can we avoid such incidents? As an Association our first piece of advice is for customers to refrain entirely from drawing large amounts of money over the counter. Should there be compelling reasons for such drawings arrangements must be made with bankers for drawings to be done from bulk counter facilities or back-office provisions where the quantum of drawings cannot be seen by spotters.  Alternatively, and particularly for extremely large drawings, Cash in Transit services offered by Security Companies or Police escort must be considered.

On the Bankers end, loitering in banking halls must be curtailed. Persons overstaying their welcome in these facilities must be approached and asked to state their business or required to leave.

As in most other criminal activities’ spotters will not conform to what we believe such persons will look like. They very well may be female, carrying babies, young or advanced in age, foreigners, or locals. They may also hold accounts with the banks they patronize. The key to whether someone must remain on the premises should be driven by whether they have unfinished business or not.  Bankers that enforce such standards eventually become least attractive to these criminals and tend to be the least targeted.

Additionally, during times of heightened smash and grab robberies, staff in the branches must not be allowed to use phones while dealing the public. In extremely remote instances, bank staff may very well be the spotters and may send a quick SMS or call to the attackers while a drawer exits the branch. The further complication with this is that during investigations, law enforcement will normally view CCTV in a bid to identify the criminals. If and when they see staff on phone at a time that coincides with a targeted drawing, it becomes reasonable to suspect that staff divulged the information to the attackers. This may result in considerable inconvenience to such staff.

This type of crime is one of the main reasons why the use of phones is not permitted in banking halls. Bankers will do well to ensure this rule is enforced. Similarly, customers in banking halls will also do well to refrain from using their phones in banking halls or risk being implicated in crimes of this nature.

If all else has failed and you are in the vehicle, carrying a large amount of money and you believe you are being trailed, what else can be done? The five- turn rule works well to establish whether you are being trailed. What you must do is take a number of left or right turns which will take you in a full circle. If the vehicle or vehicles that are behind you continue to follow you, they are certainly trailing you and your next port of call should the front entrance of the nearest Police station. I will emphasis this- Front Entrance! Not public carpark at a Police station. The attackers can still attack you while in public carparks at police stations.

As always, your feedback is highly valuable, and this platform offers an opportunity for further engagement with members of the public on matters relating to Commercial Banking. Please share your feedback with us via E-mail: Mirriam.Zimba@baz.co.zm

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