Keeping Your Eyes On Those ATM BanditsSeptember 18, 2010
‘Yes’ doesn’t necessarily mean yes in Bali. It might mean no, or maybe, or just ‘yes, I hear you, but don’t understand’. Only this week my friend handed her new driver a slice of cake and explained that he was to give it to her son on picking him up after school. A careful woman, she reiterated her instructions, throughout which the driver kept nodding vigorously. “Give to the boy at school, ya?”, she said one more time. “Ya, give to boy” repeated the driver dutifully. She breathed a sigh of relief. Seconds later, beaming with gratitude, the driver devoured the cake, mumbling “Thank you ma’am” through a cascade of crumbs.
I encounter this same phenomenon a little later as I’m about to put my card in an ATM. But there is a strange device surrounding the slot which I don’t think I’ve seen there before. It may be part of a normal upgrade to this bank’s teller machines, but I can’t tell. It looks vaguely wrong, as if designed by someone not on the original design team. Suspicious that this might be one of those skimmers installed by entrepreneurs who delight in stealing passwords – and money from accounts – I look more closely, but find nothing obviously wrong. Nevertheless, I back out without using the ATM and call the bank.
Fifteen pulsa-draining minutes of misplaced public-spiritedness later, during which I try to explain my concerns, I give up. To explain technical issues on the phone is difficult at the best of times in Bali, especially when one has only rudimentary Bahasa. But this conversation keeps going round in circles. The bank officer can’t understand why I am reporting a ‘fault’, which may not even exist, and when I have not actually been personally disadvantaged in any way. He keeps saying “Yes, I understand” when it is clear to me that he has no idea what I am talking about. “You have swimmer in your ATM?” he keeps asking. “No, I think there might be a skimmer“, I keep saying. “Ahh, you think you have swimmer …” in a voice normally used by psychiatrists when talking to the severely deluded. I finally admit to him that I am probably hallucinating and hang up.
So the following week, I find myself at a different ATM outside the Bintang supermarket – but this time with a very different ‘problem’. However, the first thing that flashes through my mind is: “Oh no! I have to call the police. How will I handle the crazy conversation that is sure to follow?” But I’m getting ahead of myself here – as it turned out, no police were necessary, and the feared conversation didn’t happen.
You see, being of paranoid disposition, anything unusual in a Bali ATM attracts my most careful scrutiny. So when, in the middle of my transaction, my foot is tickled by one of the many discarded receipts on the floor. I look down. Horrors! There is a strange device lying in the litter – a finely crafted contraption with scissor-like handles and a cunningly designed fine clamp at the other end.
Now, I don’t have any great knowledge of the actual mechanics of ATM scams, but I do have an over-active imagination. And I do know that villains can place special gizmos in the card slot. These can trap the card of an unsuspecting customer, so it can be retrieved later by the said villain. The thing at my feet is obviously such an instrument of retrieval – the clamp part is perfectly suited for insertion into the slot to grasp … my card! My card is still in there! Desperately stabbing buttons to finish the transaction and forgetting to withdraw any money, I am relieved to see my card slowly poke its way back out like a mocking tongue. In hindsight, I should have recognised that as a portent.
Once I calm down, I examine the instrument of criminality at my leisure, ignoring the impatient customer waiting outside. I am in forensic mode; she can wait. I pick it up using a discarded receipt. Fingerprints, DNA, micro-scratches, they’re all there you know. All those years of watching CSI weren’t wasted. The brilliance of the arch-criminal who made this shows up in the small details – like a strip of rubber on the clamp to prevent slipping during the delicate card extraction process. Visions of admiring glances from steely-eyed detectives and grateful bank managers fill my mind. They will surely compliment my foresight in preserving evidence … perhaps even a reward might be on the cards? And unlike last time, there will be no miscommunication. I will insist on a qualified interpreter who knows what ‘yes’ means.
So I finally exit the cubicle, my evidence held carefully at the hinge by its protective paper. The woman waiting not-so-patiently outside looks at my precious evidence, and then quizzically at me. “Wondered what was taking you so long”, she says. “Touching up the make-up, eh?” I look at her, dumbfounded.
“Er, no, I just found this thing that crooks use to get jammed cards out of …”
Her eyes drop to the device I am holding. “You mean the eyelash curler?” she asks with a grin.
OK, I didn’t get my money from the ATM. I missed out on a potentially embarrassing conversation with officialdom, but still felt like a complete goose. But I do have an eyelash curler. I wonder if it will fit into an ATM slot?