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No, pressing the ATM’s cancel button won’t prevent bank card fraud

IN SHORT: The claim that pressing the “cancel” button on an ATM up to four times to prevent card fraud has resurfaced online. But it’s still incorrect.

A Facebook post circulating in South Africa in January 2023 advises consumers to press the “cancel button 3 to 4 times before using any ATM in South Africa” to prevent card fraud.

A number of comments thanked the poster for the tip. The same claim has been published here, here and here, racking up hundreds of views.  

In 2019, Africa Check looked into a similar claim shared in Kenya. Then Fidelis Muia, director of technical services at the Kenya Bankers Association, told us that the sole purpose of the cancel button on an automated teller machine (ATM) was to stop transactions in progress. He said it would not prevent anyone from "stealing your PIN".

Is the situation any different with ATMs in South Africa? We checked. 


Common types of card fraud in South Africa

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) is a financial crime risk information centre set up by several of the country’s banks to help consumers protect themselves from bank-related crimes.

According to Sabric, the most common types of ATM card fraud were:

Cancel button on South Africa’s ATMs do not stop card fraud 

Nischal Mewalall, chief executive officer at Sabric, told Africa Check that the claim was false.

He'd seen the claim circulating via SMS and over WhatsApp for the past two years, he said. 

The function of the ATM’s cancel button was to stop a transaction before it was completed, so that your card was returned. Pressing it before a card was inserted into the machine therefore had no effect. 

“The best way to prevent becoming a victim at an ATM is to refuse offers of assistance from anyone at the ATM, and to cover your hand when entering your PIN,” Mewalall said.

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