A violent altercation erupted in Port Elizabeth’s busy Rink Street yesterday as an alleged bank card scam – captured on video – left a student bitten and bruised after a scuffle with three other ATM users.
While police are still investigating the incident, the dramatic footage shows two women accompanied by a man beating and tugging on Chris Harding, 30, accusing him of stealing money withdrawn by one of the women at an ATM.
Harding, on the other hand, alleges he was the victim of a slick scam artist.
“She [allegedly] switched my card with hers in a matter of seconds,” the NMMU law student said.
The drama unfolded through the video lens of Herald photographer Brian Witbooi, who happened to be at the First National Bank ATM.
The ensuing scuffle resulted in Harding being bitten on the forearm and scratched on the chest.
He was taken to St George’s Hospital, where he received a tetanus shot, booster shot and is on a six-month anti-retroviral course as a precaution.
The three other ATM users involved refused to give their details so a reporter could get their version of events.
Harding said he had been waiting to draw money at the ATM cluster.
Both ATMs were occupied – one by the man and the other by the women.
While he waited, the man answered a phone call and invited Harding to use the ATM in the interim.
“I put my card in and the ATM kicked it out,” Harding said.
“As soon as it did, the man was back at my side offering to help me.
“I told him I would rather wait to use the other one.
“Seconds later, the women were done and I used that one. “That ATM also kicked my card out. “Immediately, one of the women leaned over my shoulder to help me.
“I watched as she grabbed my card and with sleight of hand [allegedly] switched it with her card and slipped mine between R200 notes.”
Harding said he had quickly grabbed both the money and his card from her hand, telling her, “now let’s call the police”.
The 80-second video footage begins with Harding staring at the man, who is pointing at him and shouting “give back the money”.
Harding initially seems bewildered as he tries to fend off the three individuals who, by this time, had already torn his shirt.
The situation escalated quickly as the three forced Harding up against the window of the Rink Street Pharmacy while two of them tried to search his pockets.
A security guard arrived to try to defuse the situation, but this did little to deter two of the three, who continued to grapple with Harding.
Rink Street Pharmacy owner Brad Martin then emerged, but despite his presence and a growing number of onlookers, one of the women pulled on Harding’s T-shirt, exposing his bare back.
Asked whether he was traumatised, Harding said: “No, I was not because I could see the man was trembling, so I was not too concerned about him.
“And the women, I just had to keep fending off.”
Witbooi can also be heard instructing the security guard to call the police.
Seconds later, Harding screams, “call the police my man, why are you just standing there?”
Martin then stepped in and separated the group, at which point the unidentified man shouted: “This guy stole the girl’s money in front of me.”
One of the women then bit Harding on the left arm and he asked her: “Why are you biting me?”
Following the scuffle, Harding returned the R200 notes to the woman who, with her two alleged accomplices, slipped through the crowd and left.
“I was trying to delay the whole incident as much as I could to give the police time to get there,” Harding said.
“But I saw everyone in the crowd was just watching like sheep – I didn’t know the police had been called so I just gave her the money because I wanted to be done with the whole thing.”
Witbooi said while he had wanted to intervene in the altercation, he had decided to continue filming instead to aid any police investigation.
Martin said: “This ATM is definitely an easy target because it is exposed to the street and there is no security guard.
“The guy who was bitten regularly comes into the pharmacy. I know him.”
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the police were investigating a case of attempted robbery.
“If the investigation reveals that this is indeed a case of card scamming, it’s something we have seen quite regularly in Port Elizabeth.”
FNB Points of Presence chief executive Lee-Anne van Zyl said: “FNB is investigating the incident and will collaborate with law enforcement.”