Namibia: Credit Card Scam Uncovered

De Master Yoda

Credit Card Scam Uncovered

Friday, 24th of October 2008

By Wezi Tjaronda From:New

WINDHOEK – The tourism industry is on high alert after a highly sophisticated syndicate operating a credit card scam involving millions of dollars was uncovered.

About seven tourism establishments have been hit by the scam, which siphons money illegally from unsuspecting foreign tourists.

The Gondwana Collection, a group of nature parks and lodges, first discovered the scam after foreign tourists complained of unauthorised amounts of money being taken off their credit cards.

Investigations have revealed that not only is Gondwana affected but also Twyfelfontein Lodge, Sossusvlei Lodge near Sesriem, the newly opened Etosha Village near the Andersson’s Gate south of Okaukuejo, as well as rest camps of Namibia Wildlife Resorts in Etosha and at the Waterberg.

The scam involves a device that enables the copying and storing of information from credit cards. Approximately 20 of such devices are said to be in circulation in tourism establishments within the country and have been in use for the past two months.

New Era understands that it is not illegal to possess the device in Namibia, which makes it even more difficult to deal with the scam because a Gondwana employee that is in police custody was not arrested for possession of the device but for admitting involvement in the crime.

The Federation of Namibia Tourism Associations (FENATA) said industry is dealing with a well-financed syndicate that has highly sophisticated equipment that could see Namibia lose business in a big way through job losses, reduced profit margins and increased operational costs if the scam is not curbed.

A statement from Gondwana said a German tourist two weeks ago reported irregularities on his credit card account directly to the company after noticing irregularities when he returned to Germany.

The German national realised that several payments had been made in Namibia, while he was sure that he had only used the credit card once to settle an account at Gondwana’s Kalahari Anib Lodge north-east of Mariental.
The targets are exclusively foreigners from overseas who would only discover the fraudulent deductions from their credit card account upon their return home.

The statement said Gondwana Managing Director Mannfred Goldbeck contacted the clients, urging them to lay charges with the local police.
One employee of Gondwana is in police custody following the scam. A source told New Era yesterday that although the devices are widespread in tourism establishments, only one device that was used at Gondwana has been found.

Gondwana Collection and Namibia Wildlife Resorts have received five complaints about the illegal use of their credit cards with Gondwana reporting three and two for NWR.

Although the malpractice is widespread, only Gondwana has lodged a case with the police.

FENATA Chief Executive Officer, Jacqueline Asheeke, told New Era yesterday her organisation has taken several measures, including:

• Asking to meet the Minister of Safety and Security to ask for advice on the matter;

• Informing its members to train their staff dealing with credit cards on the dangers this would have on the industry;

• Informing operators in the industry to warn tourists about use of credit cards including keeping an eye on the credit cards and checking that their bills correspond with the accounts of the trip.

The syndicate is said to work through members of a ‘recruitment team’ who drive through the country and approach staff working with foreign clients and handle credit card payments.

“The ‘recruiters’ persuade staff to collect required information from the credit cards of their clients and hand it over to a contact person at a later stage. They win co-operation by impressing staff members with expensive clothes, watches or even cars and tempting them with a promise of a better life, often offering five figure rewards.

“Even longstanding employees, who enjoy the trust of the management are misled by these recruiters who try and belittle the crime by saying that not the credit card owners, but the credit card companies and their insurances will foot the bill,†said the statement.

Employees that agree to take part receive the mini scanner, which they insert in the box to be scanned and only afterwards swipe it in the correct credit card machine.

The box saves the information and is, at a later stage, handed over to a contact person – often the recruiter. A second team will then download the information and issue false credit cards. Members of a third team then use these cards to withdraw money or purchase valuables and easily resalable items such as laptops, watches or cars, it added.