Restaurants up efforts to beat card crime
By Jade Witten, Zara Nicholson and Lavern de Vries

Cape Town restaurants are being encouraged to fork out about R6 800 to buy portable hand-held credit card machines to protect their patrons from falling victim to credit card criminals.

The arrest last week of 11 waitrons nine from Canal Walk and two from Milnerton in connection with credit card skimming has served as a wake-up call to the industry, with Fedhasa (the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa) reminding establishments of their duty to protect patrons from credit card scams.

The suspects, aged between 21 and 32, were due to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court today.

A spot survey in the city revealed that restaurants were improving their efforts to prevent credit card crime.

If they did not have the hand-held device that enabled transactions to take place at a patron's table, then patrons were encouraged to leave their table to watch the transaction taking place at the fixed device pay point at the till.

Skimming, which is one of many constantly-changing methods used by credit card criminals, is conducted with a hand-held swiping device that duplicates all the information on the magnetic strip of a credit card.

The criminal then copies this onto a blank card and this card becomes as effective as the original.

The Cape Town Fish Market restaurant in Canal Walk reported that its use of portable machines had limited the possibility of fraud.

"This machine safeguards our clients and the business itself," said co-owner Malcolm Royston.

Royston said fraud had previously occurred at the restaurant, but "this was mainly when a card was used more than once".

Dilshad Karriem, manager of the Spur in Observatory, said after they fired a waiter who was believed to have committed fraud two months ago, cameras were installed directly over the front desk and the manager on duty supervised transactions.

"But nine times out of ten people come to the counter to pay themselves," she said.

However, one restaurant manager in Tyger Valley who did not want to be identified complained that the portable machine was "not cost effective".

"It's a very expensive machine and if a waiter should drop it, it will set us back R6 800," the manager said.

Several restaurants in the V&A Waterfront said they had stepped up security measures after various skimming offences last year.

Ocean Basket improved security after dismissing one of its employees.

"We check cards regularly to see if there are any irregular large amounts. We also ask the waiters to keep copies of the bills to see if anything corresponds and recently we obtained portable machines so that the patrons can see exactly what the waiter is doing," a manager said.

The restaurant also recently acquired a hand-held device.

An Ocean Basket manager - who declined to be named - said that not all establishments were willing to install these devices.

"Sometimes they are not available and they do break quite easily, so maybe certain restaurants don't want to use it because of that.

"There might also be a cost implication because we have to rent the machines from the banks, but we can assure patrons that since we've been using it, no fraud has occurred," he said.

Cape Town Fedhasa chairperson Nils Heckscher said the issue was as a "matter of urgency" and the arrests last week could be used as a "springboard" for discussions to re-align employment practices.

"We will talk with financial institutions to jointly draw up an action plan to eradicate this problem," he said.

Rey Franco, chairman of the Cape restaurants segment of Fedhasa, said consumer assurance and protection for credit cards were "paramount".

"We are re-enforcing the already strict stance on thorough personnel recruitment and firm encouragement for use of portable credit card machines in establishments," he said.

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