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How Can I Prevent Credit Card Fraud Abroad When I Travel?

Credit Card Fraud

I'm going on a business trip to Italy and will be using my company's credit card. I've heard some horror stories from friends who've been fleeced while abroad and I am feeling quite nervous about this. I'm aware of cash passports and the like, but unfortunately I have to use the company credit card for my expenses. How can I avoid becoming a victim of fraud? Oliver Clark, Cambridge

Our Answer:

Dear Oliver,
Thanks for your email. You are quite right to be concerned. Even though the use of chip-and-PIN cards has decreased credit card fraud in the UK, other countries have not yet adopted the scheme and instances of fraud are still high. Statistics show that fraud abroad accounts for almost a quarter of all card fraud, with the most dangerous destination being the US (they have yet to implement the chip-and-PIN system).

We don't want to terrify you with more stats and warnings though. Take a deep breath and peruse the following tips to avoid getting foxed.

Upgrade to a chip-and-PIN card

Most new UK issued cards are chip-and-PIN. So if your card was issued after 2004 it will be chip-and-PIN. If not, it is important to upgrade before you go abroad. The old magnetic strip cards have become too easy to clone and will put you at risk.

Keep your card with you at all times

Losing your card can be a major hassle and a huge expense, should criminals get their naughty paws on it. Your hotel room is not a safe place to leave your valuables - especially your credit card. If you use the hotel room safe it is advisable that you fit your own lock, such as a Milockie.

Notify your credit card issuer about your travels and details

Some credit card companies monitor account activity. If your account suddenly shows unusual activity, they automatically suspend the account and contact the account holder. Many a holiday has begun on the worst possible note with a suspended card. Notify your credit card company of your itinerary and ensure your contact details are up to date. Also ensure that you have your credit card company's emergency contact number and your account details in case of an emergency, but don't keep these details in your wallet or purse.

Take only the cards that you need

It's better to only lose one card if your wallet or purse is stolen. Leave all your other cards at home, but do have more than one payment method. Bring emergency cash and keep it separate from your credit card.

Swipe your own card

Do not let someone else swipe your card, rather do it yourself. Wireless readers make it so easy you don't even have to leave your seat. In this way, you avoid the dreaded card skimmer. Skimmers are often shop assistants and waiters who get paid to skim cards by more serious criminals. Once your details have been captured, your card is cloned and your account emptied. This type of crime has lessened with the advent of chip-and-PIN cards, but caution should always be exercised.

Keep all your receipts

As a precautionary measure, keep all your receipts to cross-check with your bank statements. If any suspicious payments show up, contact your credit card company immediately. Also make sure to check your slip at the point of sale to ensure that you're paying only for what you intend to buy.

Avoid These Common Scams

These are some of the recent scams that you should keep an eye out for on your travels:

  • Some unscrupulous establishments add an extra '0' to the bill. A meal for €60 becomes €600. The key to avoiding this scam is to inspect your slip before payment.
  • Beware of double charging. Some retailers have been known to double charge customers by pretending to have made an error on the first charge and then just recharging the customer. To avoid this scam make sure that the first transaction has indeed been cancelled. Usually a slip is issued for the cancellation. Inspect it and keep it as evidence. Or you can offer to pay the difference instead of being charged the full amount again.
  • When withdrawing money from an ATM, check for any suspicious alterations to the ATM. Card readers have been found on tampered ATM's. Rather do not use ATM's in remote areas.
  • Be vigilant even after your travels. A popular new scam begins after your holiday. People purporting to be from your bank call to tell you that suspicious transactions have been picked up on your account. They then ask you for your card details and proceed to use those details to scam you. Legitimate banks will never ask you for your details by phone or email. To be 100% certain, offer to call the bank back so that you can be certain that you are indeed talking to the bank.

Have a happy fraud-free trip!

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Last Updated: May 2011