A ruthless criminal syndicate is on the loose in Limpopo, assaulting and robbing unsuspecting ATM users who withdraw huge sums from Polokwane banks.
The gang allegedly works with unscrupulous bank employees who tip them off about clients withdrawing huge amounts of cash. On October 6, two people were robbed of huge cash after leaving ATMs in separate incidents in Polokwane, northern South Africa.
According to victims and a crime researcher, the gang targets people who drive flashy cars and wear expensive clothes when they enter and leave the banks. After receiving a tip-off from their spotters outside the banks, they follow their targets and pounce in secluded areas like the parking lots, driveways and empty streets in the Polokwane CBD.
In some cases, members of the criminal syndicate work with bank employees who give them the description of the clients and the amount they withdrew, the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said. They also use men and women dressed immaculately like business executives to gain the trust of their would-be victims.
An anonymous Polokwane resident said the gang has terrorised ATM users for three years. In recent months, however, they spread their reign of terror across several of the city’s main business centres. He said the problem was rife at ATMs on Schoeman and Thabo Mbeki streets in the Polokwane CBD, among others.
“They will literally stop you in certain ATMs at certain times. Most of the robberies took place at Capitec and FNB ATMs on Thabo Mbeki Streets, and that ABSA ATM on Schoeman (street). If you want to withdraw money, and you see a suspicious car or somebody offering to help you, you must refuse. They also do card cloning,” said the man.
On Friday, a group of armed suspects believed responsible for a series of ATM robberies in Polokwane robbed two individuals of significant sums of money in separate incidents, said Limpopo police.
“In the first incident, a male victim withdrew an undisclosed sizable amount of money from an ATM in Bendor Park and then drove to the barber shop in the CBD, where the suspects later accosted him and demanded money at gunpoint. The suspects went to the victim’s vehicle and stole all the money, a laptop, and personal documents before they fled the scene.
“In the second incident, a male victim reported being followed from the same ATM by possibly the same suspects shortly after the first incident. The victim had withdrawn a substantial amount of cash before the suspects blocked his vehicle and robbed him at gunpoint, taking the money and two cell phones,” said Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Malesela Ledwaba.
Following recent reports of incidents in Polokwane, Limpopo Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Thembi Hadebe has urged community members to exercise caution when withdrawing large amounts of cash.
“Community members must not withdraw large amounts of cash, and if they do, to be extra cautious after several incidents in which people were robbed after withdrawing large cash amounts from the bank in the province,” said Hadebe.
She urged members of the police to approach the police with any information about the criminal syndicate.
“We will spare no effort to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice. We urge the public to cooperate with the police by providing valuable information that could assist in these investigations.”
In 2018, a man was shot dead at Cycad Mall in Polokwane after allegedly robbing another who was about to deposit cash at the ATM. The 58-year-old victim shot the suspect dead, who was “running away from his motor vehicle with his bag towards the getaway vehicle with four occupants”, according to a police statement at the time.
A private investigator, who requested not to be named, told African Times that the syndicate operated in the Polokwane CBD, targeting individuals who withdrew a substantial amount of money.
“Their modus operandi involves observing individuals who drive expensive cars and wear branded, expensive clothing. They then proceed to follow unsuspecting civilians from the moment they enter the bank or ATM until they reach their destination, be it a driveway or parking area.
“Usually, there is a decoy who will be like a normal person who is in the bank to perform his or her transactions. While inside the bank or ATM, the decoy will be either holding an envelope or gadget and dressed formally, like an executive or a middle-class individual,” he said.
The investigator said the executive look was to deceive unsuspecting individuals.
“For example, who would believe that a gentleman dressed immaculately could possibly be associated with a criminal gang?” he said.
He added that another method was to team up with internal bank staff, who typically leaked information on clients withdrawing substantial amounts of money.
“How they do it is by providing a comprehensive description of a client and sharing it with the criminal gangs waiting outside. These gangs will subsequently trail the client from point A to point B.
“The probability is that they will assault the clients/victims in your enclosed environment, such as your shops, driveway, or parking area, where the chances of being seen are very minimal. People passing by will hardly notice,” he said.
The investigator stated that to safeguard oneself, it was imperative to refrain from visiting banks during peak hours. These peak hours included the morning rush, lunchtime, and shortly before 4 p.m.
He warned people also to avoid carrying money bags or bags in public. The crime expert stated that individuals should utilize alternative methods rather than withdraw substantial money.
“If business people want to pay their workers, they can even do a cash transfer. Mostly, those who withdrew in bulk are going to use it for some gratification related to business dealings,” he said.
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world.
According to the 4th Quarter Crime figures, 6 285 people were killed in the three months under review, with most of the murders happening in Kwazulu Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng. The same statistics indicated a 3.4% increase in the murder rate between January and March this year.
Kwazulu Natal Province also has the unenviable tag of having the most reported multiple murder cases, claiming 205 victims between January and March, followed by the Eastern Cape, with 155 reported victims.
According to the statistics, the number of reported rape cases has slumped, with six provinces reporting fewer cases. A total of 10 512 people were raped in the first three months of this year.