Avatar photo

By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

Tap-to-pay warning: Rise in criminals scamming contactless payments [Video]

South Africans are increasingly falling prey to card scammers cloning banking card information using the tap-to-pay function.

Criminals are increasingly cashing in on the growing popularity of tap-to-pay contactless payments in South Africa. Along with the convenience of tapping one’s bank card, using your smartphone or smartwatch at a point-of-sale (POS) machine, comes the risk of fraud.

An alarming increase in digital payment fraud has been reported as scheming scammers target unsuspecting victims at the service stations and till points.

Tap-to-pay fraud at petrol stations – What to know

“Imagine you’re paying for petrol and someone is standing near you,” said Richard Frost, product head from cyber security company Armata, told BusinessTech.

“They’re talking on their phone, it’s completely normal. Nothing to worry about, right? Well, until you tap the point-of-sale device with your card, that is.

“As you tap, that person taps your card, and the money comes off twice – once for the petrol and once for the fraudster,” explained Frost.

‘All you need is a credit card machine in your pocket

“It’s an incredibly easy scam to perpetrate as well. All you need is a credit card machine in your pocket, and you can take any amount you want from someone’s card when they use the tap-to-pay function.”

By the time the consumer gets the two notifications from their bank, the fraudster has already vanished into thin air.

“You can spend quite a lot of money in one tap, which means that the skimming devices designed to siphon the funds at the moment of payment can really hit people hard,” said Frost.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Motorists beware! Banking app kidnapping and other hijacking trends

How to thwart card scammers’ efforts

According to him, the best way to protect your hard-earned savings, is to disable your bank card’s tap function or to insert it into a card machine and use your PIN.

Frost added that another option is to rather use your cellphone with a virtual card or one of the digital wallet payment services.

smartphone contactless tap-to-pay payment
Cellphones have more security than bank cards when it comes to contactless payments. Photo: iStock

Apart from the time limit on the duration of phone payments, cellphones have more security. So when you tap it, the phone will only allow the amount to come off once.

WATCH: Criminals’ pay-to-tap tactic at till points

Crime Watch‘s Yusuf Abramjee posted security video footage on his X account in March showing the criminals’ modus operandi at till points to steal from victims using their bank cards with the tap-to-pay function.

In the video clip, a potential card scammer place some items he intends to “buy” at the till while casually conversing with the cashier.

He then tells the victim to go in front of him to pay for her goods.

When she pays by using the tap-to-pay function of her card, the criminal strikes. He can be seen moving close enough to use his smartphone to scan the card using software that likely clones the card’s details.

This all happens without the victim’s knowledge or notification that their card has been scanned.

What technology do scammers use for tap-to-pay fraud?

According to the Ombudsman for Banking Services South Africa (OBSSA), this scam works by exploiting near-field communication (NFC) technology and tap-and-go payment systems.

NFC technology scams involve fraudsters using stolen bank card information, such as the card number, expiry date, and CVV number, to make fraudulent purchases through digital wallets.

The OBSSA explained that fraudsters use stolen card information to link their smart devices, such as smartphones and smartwatches, to payment platforms like Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, Garmin Pay and Google Pay.

The Ombudsman confirmed hundreds of NFC fraud-related complaints have recently formally been reported and investigated by the mediator’s office.

ALSO READ: SA grappling with a surge in banking app fraud, Sabric reveals

Read more on these topics

Bank Fraud Crime fraud scam