Simon Calder: The man who pays his way

The poorly-paid person who skimmed my credit card will have been rewarded with a few dollars by the organised criminals who buy card details wholesale

Answering the call  of the wild...

If you feel drawn by the call of the wild, Etosha National Park in Namibia provides an excellent solution. This Wales-sized slab of wilderness in south-west Africa protects an alphabet of animals from aardvark to zebra, including a scattering of the endangered black rhino.

At the heart of the reserve is a vast salt pan roughly the area of Norfolk. The name of this sun-shrivelled hydrological dead-end (Etosha, not Norfolk) translates as “great white place”.

The savanna grasslands that encircle it are etched with dirt tracks that allow visitors to search for wildlife, encounter a real zebra crossing and reach the three tourist lodges. The foremost lodge is the first, Okaukuejo, a former military base from the days when this area was part of Germany’s African empire. Today, its leading attribute is a waterhole – not the swimming pool, which is currently empty, but an artificial bowl pumped full of fresh water to lure parched creatures for the benefit of visitors.

Many beasts come to drink at dusk. Fortunately from the tourist’s perspective, the waterhole is floodlit. Once the sun goes down, you can watch elephants perform their slow-motion ablutions and see giraffes dance skittishly around rhinos that move with the might and menace of a platoon of Panzer IVs.

After this spectacle, you might be in need of replenishment at the lodge’s bar and restaurant. But be careful how you pay: according to the Foreign Office, there could be hunters at work. The latest FCO advice for Namibia highlights the property when it warns British guests that they could be victims of fraud: “There have been cases of credit-card skimming at some hotels and lodges around the country.” And it says Okakuejo Lodge has been identified as a “hotspot” for the practice.

To remind you: “skimming” involves extracting names and numbers of genuine credit cards, and seeking to use those details to obtain cash, goods or (often) airline tickets.

At the fraud’s most basic level, the perpetrator needs only a pen and paper to record the name, card number and the three-digit CVV (“Card Verification Value”) security code on the signature panel. The US State Department warns that the practice in Namibia is usually more sophisticated: “While most business establishments deal honestly, some may have individual employees who use card-reading machines to steal information when patrons pay”.

Mufaro Nesongano, a spokesman for Namibia Wildlife Resorts, told me the lodge takes the accusations“very seriously”. He said: “What we have been able to do, is increase our security ... If any of our clients get suspicious of any unusual activity they are welcome to contact us so that we can follow up the matter on their behalf.”

... and answering the call of the fraud team

Preventing your credit card from being skimmed is easy: don’t use it. For travellers in southern Africa, cash is king. As you can read in the latest edition of Carousel magazine: “Cash says less about you than plastic ever can, which is worth bearing in mind if you are in a location with a high risk of credit-card fraud.” (Carousel  sounds like a timely new publication to help fill the long hours at the end of a flight while you wait for your case to wobble ponderously out  of the shadows in baggage reclaim. It is, actually, the venerable journal of the Diplomatic Service Families Association.)

Towards the end of my trip through southern Africa I ran out of cash. I had planned to top up as necessary by using my debit card in an ATM – which should be a risk-free transaction using the chip-and-pin system. Frustratingly, the bank blocked the attempt. So, on my last day, I had no choice but to use my credit card in a couple of restaurants in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. But I failed to heed the FCO advice: “Keep the card in full view at all times.”

Back at Heathrow, I had barely retrieved my baggage from the carousel at Terminal 5 when I got a call from the bank’s fraud department. Had I just tried to make a purchase for 4,999 Namibian dollars (about £275)? Well, I felt like saying, coffee at Heathrow can be expensive but ...

Semi-skimmed

This card trick has several players besides the unwitting traveller. The poorly-paid person who skimmed my credit card will have been rewarded with a few dollars by the organised criminals who buy card details wholesale. Someone else will then have set about trying to cash in with a series of “cardholder not present” transactions. Often, they try a small purchase to see if the card is still active, then move on to bigger buys. In this case, they went straight for a transaction that was intended to sneak below a presumed N$5,000 threshold. They predicted it would not trigger an alert. But my bank (or at least the detection algorithm it uses) was awake; when I explained I was in west London, not south-west Africa, the purchase was rejected. My account was closed down and a new one started.

I guess that counts as being semi-skimmed: the only “cost” is the online tedium involved in telling everyone from Ryanair to Virgin Trains that the details of my stored card have changed.

Looking on the bright side: as financial crimes go, I’d rather be skimmed than mugged. The scam must work sufficiently often to make it worth the villains’ while, and therefore at least some wealth is transferred from relatively rich parts of the world to southern Africa. And it is less destructive than poaching rhino and selling their horns to China and Vietnam.

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links