Banking on ATM security

CLOSE EYE: Paul Warren, of Security Management Solutions, at the company’s Newton Park offices Picture: FREDLIN ADRIAAN
CLOSE EYE: Paul Warren, of Security Management Solutions, at the company’s Newton Park offices

Bay firm holds surveillance contract for top SA banks

Mugshots, some grouped together to loosely resemble family albums, line two walls of a modern office in a seemingly nondescript building in Port Elizabeth.

But the scores of photographs are not of smiling friends and family members.

Instead, they are the faces of the lone ATM fraudsters and members of bank card crime syndicates that are counted among top national surveillance company Security Management Solution’s (SMS) best “customers”.

With it’s headquarters in Newton Park, SMS has been steadily making it as a niche “end-to-end” ATM security and intelligence service in South Africa’s vast and highly competitive security industry.

Established in 2004, the company came about through the chance meeting of widely experienced security experts and SMS owners Paul Warren, 50, William Koen, 58, and Wynand Wessels, 46.

It is now a multimillion-rand enterprise that is singularly focused on protecting its client banks, their customers and money at ATM sites – while helping to catch the hundreds of criminals who have collectively fleeced millions of rands from ATM users over the past decade and longer.

Upmarket, tightly secured and exceptionally high-tech, the interior of SMS’s facilities appear to come from the set of a James Bond movie – except that it’s real.

From its well-organised, professional surveillance hub, SMS is currently watching 1 000 ATM sites across the country on a 24-hour basis.

At the heart of the operation is the home of “Big Brother” – the company’s state-of-the-art camera surveillance control room, from where skilled monitors – who are predominantly women – keep a constant eye on all activities taking place at the ATM sites.

Trained to detect everything from suspicious body language and known criminals, to all the forms of bank card swapping and skimming, frauds and other crimes, SMS’s “Big Sisters” and the hi-res camera monitors they operate, form the core of the company’s critical service offerings.

“In addition to the 1 000 sites we are monitoring around the country, we will soon be adding another 750 more.

“Our primary clients are two of the country’s top banks, for which we provide a range of services.

“Essentially though, we play a critical role in keeping a protective eye on the customers who use these sites,” explained Warren, a former navy intelligence officer and corporate private investigator.

“Importantly, our services also involve the identification and profiling of criminals, syndicates and ATM crime hotspots.

“All of this is done towards making arrests and to ultimately improve ATM security,” Warren, who serves the company as one of its directors, said.

SMS, which employs around 120 people, has played a critical role in the arrests of 732 criminals since 2008.

In one of their biggest cases, the company was highly instrumental in the conviction of two ATM and bank card fraudsters who had stolen thousands of rands from bank customers in the Western Cape.

Convicted on 17 counts, the pair were sentenced to effective 54 and 51 years imprisonment respectively.

“We do have a proactive function in that when our monitors detect an illegal activity, the appropriate authorities can be alerted towards an immediate response,” Warren said.

“Conversely, and following an arrest, we also provide the camera footage that will help to secure convictions in a court.”

Revealing that there were a number of unseen complexities involved in the industry, such as compliance with the applicable laws and regulations, Warren said there was room for growth in the industry, with technology advancements being among the major drivers of the sector.

“There is still a measure of ignorance among the banking public – not only around the various crimes that they can be subjected to, but also around their rights and the recourse they should be getting from the institutions they bank with.

“ATM users should be demanding better security and crime prevention from their banks, while also taking better precautions when using ATMs,” Warren said.

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