Two months ago a credit card ID thief nabbed my account information and went on a shopping spree. Over a two week period this (Editor’s note: expletive deleted) bandit purchased, among other items, snacks at the racetrack, many tanks of gas, and a new pair of shoes.
In the end, $2,000 was charged to my card. I reported the case early soon after the first purchase, but could then only sit back and watch it continue. Feeling helpless, all I could do was get my schadenfreude on. I was hoping for stale popcorn, an accidental tank of diesel, and bunions upon their feet.
Worst of all, though, I felt pretty dumb. I use my debit card for nearly all of my transactions and always assumed this was the “smart” way to pay. After all, I could view itemized sales online at any time and I didn’t need to carry around excess cash in my wallet.
Rather than swear off using my card in the future, I decided to make a few changes to how I used it to prevent ID theft in the future, with special attention paid (ha!) to managing receipts in the correct manner, and making sure to monitor my account regularly.
While my ID theft occurred locally, travelers can be even more susceptible while they’re abroad, as they generally buy more stuff when traveling. We thought about that this morning, when reading Darren’s excellent post on Travel Rants on travelers having their credit cards frozen while traveling (fun, fun!).
Here are some of our tips for keeping your credit and debit cards secure while traveling.
#1: Tell your bank before you leave.
This will help them be on the lookout for potentially fraudulent activity and notify you quickly should anything odd occur. Even more importantly, this will reduce the chance the bank will freeze your account while you’re on the road.
#2: Diversify how you pay for purchases.
Consider using one credit card for specific items (i.e., use Amex only for hotels and car rentals, as you’ll get points plus some Amex cards automatically provide discounted car insurance) and think about taking a small amount of traveler’s checks just in case.
#3: Tell your bank how to contact you while you’re away.
Give them your personal email address and check your email at least weekly. Also consider taking your cell phone and tell your provider you want to activate an international plan for the time you’re away. Leave your phone off and check messages once a day (roaming charges and other fees could quickly get out of control if you leave it on, so be careful). If you use a web-based home phone system such as Vonage, consider having your voicemail forwarded to your email. And if you’re super crafty, consider forwarding calls from your home phone to a friend or relative (but tell them first!).
#4: Keep your bank and credit card contact information handy.
If you’ve ever grown frustrated while holding the line when you called your credit card or bank, imagine being charged outrageous international rates while you wait. Get the most direct customer service number for your bank and take it with you.
#5: Stay away from sketchy ATM machines.
Stay away from ATM machines that aren’t connected to larger banks. Who knows who will gain access to your information. Also, if your card gets swallowed for some reason, you’ll have a hard time getting it back quickly.
#6: Guard your receipts.
Do not simply toss receipts from cafes, restaurant, bars and shops in the closest trash can. Keep them in one place while you travel and shred them when you get home. It will lessen the chance of having your credit card info get into the wrong hands, plus you’ll be able to ooohh and aaahh about “that great dinner” when you return home.
Do you have any other helpful credit card security tips to share? Leave a comment below and let us know!