So how can you best protect yourself?
Here are my Insider’s Edge top tips:
1. Take no more than two cards with you when you’re abroad, one as a main and one as a backup. Bring extra ones and there’s more to steal, more to clone and more hassle all round.
2. If you’ll be away for a long time consider taking traveller’s cheques. These are an excellent fail-safe way to get hold of cash and could get you out of a tight spot. Travellers cheques are virtually useless to thieves because you have to present yourself in person and show your passport to release funds.
I was once stranded as a young backpacker in Kampala, Uganda with no cash. At the time the one cash machine in the city centre didn’t take international debit cards. Because I had Traveller’s cheques with me I was able to withdraw emergency money safely and with very little hassle.
3. Let your bank know where and when your going. When you’ve decided which cards you’re taking with you, the first thing you need to do is inform your bank that you’re going on holiday or on a business trip. Tell them where you’ll be (roughly) and how long for. You don’t need to go in branch for this, it can be done on the phone. Make sure you jot down their emergency contact numbers in case you get into any strife.
Now most banks encourage you to do this, but I know Natwest currently say that you don’t need to. I think this is crazy and I always insist they put a note on my account telling them where I’ll be. Why? Well, if something does go wrong you’ve kept them informed – which can only be a good thing.
4. Be choosy about which cashmachines you use. Once you’ve made it to your destination the next thing you need to be wary of is cashmachine or ATMs. All the tips mentioned in my previous article on How to stop your bank cards being cloned apply if you’re travelling abroad – more so in fact. Foreign machines will already be unfamiliar, so it’ll be harder to spot if anything looks out of the ordinary.
And it’s not just the bank machines you need to be wary of…
There are a number of other scams to watch out for:
5. Watch out for the dodgy waiter. In the UK your card details can be cloned on specially rigged chip and pin readers. In the USA they don’t even have chip and pin readers, so card cloning is even easier. That means you need to carry a fist full of eye peelers with you at all times. Know where your card is at all times. Don’t let a waiter or waitress whisk it off to some backroom where they could copy it.
6. Be extremely careful when signing off bill cheques. Some unscrupulous restaurants and bars will add an ‘accidental’ zero to the end of your bill in the hope that you won’t notice. Suddenly that £20 slap up meal ends up costing you £200. This is an easy one to fall pray to if you’ve had a few drinks. Double check everything and keep your copy of the transaction.
7. Keep it hidden. If you’re in a bit of a ‘funny’ area (and I don’t mean funny haha) consider keeping your card in a money belt around your waist, concealed under your clothing. If you’re not taking your card out with you put it in a safe rather than leaving it hidden in the room. If there’s no safe bring your own lock and secure it in a bag.
8. Watch out for the ‘Double Charge’ scam. Your receipt is being processed when suddenly the waiter/shopkeeper/bankrobber says that it’s “gone through wrong” and that they’ll need to put it through again. If this happens make sure you get a copy of the cancelled transaction (it should actually say ‘VOID’ or ‘CANCELLED’) somewhere on this receipt. Otherwise some tyrants can try and use the old technical glitch routine to get you to pay twice.
9. Once you’re home stay on your guard. Sometimes opportunist scamsters wait until you get home and then call you pretending to be someone from your bank. “It appears like there has been some fraudulent activity on your account” etc. They’ll then ask you some phoney security questions to try and nab your bank account details. Real banks won’t call you out of the blue asking for personal information. If they do, tell them you’ll call them back and phone them on the proper number.
That’s it! Of course the main thing to do is have fun and try not to imagine there’s a criminal hiding behind every palm tree. There’s not. These are just a few simple precautions you can take to protect yourself should the worst happen.