They accounted for 23 percent of all complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS).
“ATM-related complaints dominated the caseload, with more than 1800 complaints compared to 1100 in the previous year,” Ombudsman Clive Pillay said in a statement after releasing its 2013 annual report in Johannesburg.
He said the increase was ironically attributed to banks stepping up security measures to prevent electronic banking fraud.
“Criminals are returning to the easier pickings of automatic tellers, resorting at times to removing the toll-free numbers from the machines to delay victims’ alerts to the banks,” he said.
“That said, the office investigated about 200 more internet banking complaints than in 2012, which is to be expected given the surge in electronic banking and the rapidly growing numbers of bank customers.”
During 2013, the ombudsman’s office dealt with 4950 cases ranging from mobile banking and credit cards, to ATMs, mortgages and car finance.
Of the total number of cases for the year, more than 1900 were found in favour of the consumer, which represented a recovery of about R16 million from the banks.
Among these were 72 debit order issues, dealing particularly with unauthorised debits, 38 (53 percent).
The majority of ATM cases were deemed to be the result of consumers compromising their personal details, resulting in a greater number of findings for the banks.
The number of cellphone phishing cases rose by 27 percent last year.
Phishing is attempting to acquire sensitive information such as passwords and credit card details, and money by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.
“Bank information technology specialists need to work with mobile application developers and wireless network service providers to address the challenges associated with security of financial transactions and transmission of financial information electronically,” OBS chairman John Myburgh, SC, wrote in the report.
He said systems needed to be continually updated to counter new threats.
Myburgh lauded banks for their heightened attention to security, which he described as reassuring to consumers.
Pillay said the increasing number of complaints resolved at the initial assessment stage was encouraging, with the case being referred back to the bank with an OBS recommendation.
“This reflects the willingness of the banks to abide by our rulings, which are seen as bias-free,” he said.
Pillay said many disputes resulted from customers not understanding the contracts they signed.
“We receive complaints from consumers who are not sure what they have signed and, consequently, find themselves in disputes with their banks,” he said.
“Consumers sign a loan agreement, for example, when, as a result of woolly language and legalese, they think they are signing a vehicle financing agreement.”
He said contracts should be drafted in simple, understandable, and unambiguous language, but banks were falling short of that.
He said writing contracts and forms in plain English would help to reduce the number of complaints.