WATCH | ATM fraudsters' modus operandi back in spotlight after Paarl mall shootout
An ATM fraud syndicate is suspected of being involved in a shopping mall shootout with police on Thursday in Paarl, Western Cape.
Police opened fire when suspected ATM fraudsters tried to run over the officers with their getaway vehicle after pointing a gun at them.
Sources said the suspects were probably targeting foreign tourists when they were interrupted by police.
In 2017, a TimesLIVE video showed how ATM tricksters use confusion and sleight of hand to rob their victims.
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Western Cape police spokesperson Lt-Col Andrè Traut said Thursday's incident, which happened around noon, was under investigation.
"Members attached to Paarl police responded to a complaint about card skimmers at a mall in Nuwe Vlei Street in Paarl," he said.
"Upon arriving at the scene, two suspects fled in a hired Renault Clio vehicle and tried to run over the members while pointing a firearm at them.
"In an attempt to apprehend the suspects, shots were discharged by the members, however the [suspects] managed to evade arrest and are being sought."
Police sources said the culprits were believed to be part of a group from Mbekweni who made up one of two ATM fraud syndicates operating in the Western Cape.
"We have been tracking this syndicate for 10 years. We believe they have between 40 and 50 active members," said a source.
"Unlike the Cape Town CBD syndicate, the Mbekweni syndicate is known for violence, and most of them have long criminal records for cash-in-transit heists, murder, housebreaking, theft, and so on."
"They almost exclusively target tourists because tomorrow or the next day the tourist is out of the country, so that case never gets placed on the roll or is withdrawn. They know this and they get away with it."
Alhough most members of the suspected syndicate live in Mbekweni, their area of operations extends to all the tourist hotspots in the Western Cape, including the Garden Route.
"They basically target Worcester, Mossel Bay, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Strand, Somerset West, Paarl, Vredenburg and Langebaan. They spread out widely," the source said.
He said the Cape Town CBD syndicate had started working with the Mbekweni syndicate, and lately suspects from both groups had been arrested together in the same vehicles.
"If they drive past an ATM and they see there are people they immediately go up to them. They are incredibly focused on your accent and the type of card you use. If they see you have a local card they immediately walk away," said the source.
"Tourists also dress differently, for instance wearing an 'I love Cape Town' T-shirt, carrying a massive camera around the neck and a backpack. It gives them away."