8 Ways to Protect Against Bank Fraud While Travelling

8 Ways to Protect Against Bank Fraud While Travelling

I love using my credit card on vacation. I’ll take swiping, tapping, or inserting any day if it means I don’t have to fumble around with weird, oversized bank notes that don’t fit in my wallet (I’m looking at you, Australia and England). When a company figures out a way to put banking details on a tiny, secure, wireless microchip, I’ll be first in line to have it implanted. But until the day comes when we can all Jedi-gesture for coffee at the green mermaid, we must keep a close watch over bank card scams and identity theft—especially while travelling.

STARTLING FACT: Credit card fraud costs Canadians more than $1 million a day, according to the Canadian Bankers Association.

1. Notify your bank before you leave

If your credit card company or bank notices that you start racking up big purchases (hotels, excursions, etc.) outside your usual geographic area, they might put a hold on your card. Before you leave town, give them a call to let them know where you’re planning to go and how long you expect to be away.

NOTE: Some institutions, like TD and RBC, have Orwellian-like fraud detection algorithms which are so clever, you don't need to tell them you're travelling. But if you're not sure if they use that kind of technology, just ask! Which leads me to the next point . . .

2. Jot down financial contact info

If your credit or debit card goes missing, or if you see suspicious purchases show up in your banking statements, you’ll have quick access to cancel your card and minimize potential losses.

TIP: Check the fraud protections and liabilities in your cardholder agreement.

3. Use a prepaid or low-limit credit card

Since prepaid and low-limit credit cards have (you guessed it) lower limits, if your card is somehow compromised, the potential losses will be much lower than with your usual card.

4. Don’t let your card out of sight

Unscrupulous restaurant staff and shop clerks have been known to collect credit card information with a skimming device or simply by snapping a picture. Insist on swiping your card at the till or with a portable debit machine. Need to buy gas while road tripping in the U.S.? Instead of leaving your card with the clerk, use your card at the pump.

5. Avoid suspicious ATMs

If anything on the front of the ATM looks broken, dislodged, or jerry-rigged, it could mean that someone has installed a card skimming machine. Try to use ATMs found at reputable banks, as thieves tend to shy away from security cameras.

6. Be wary of internet cafes and public Wi-Fi

No internet connection or Wi-Fi signal is totally secure, but there are ways to determine whether a particular network is relatively safe to use. Want to check your email, pay some bills, or catch up on some work using the free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop? Don't risk it. It's surprisingly easy for a hacker to monitor your browsing on a public network, even if there's a password or encryption certificate. For especially sensitive tasks while away from home, use a VPN (virtual private network).

7. Other travel-related scams

  • Free plane ticket or vacation wins: Fraudsters contact you by phone, email, or social media and claim that you’ve won a too-good-to-be-true travel prize. This is done to try and collect personal details from you for identity theft.
  • Fake travel websites: Fraudsters have been known to create false travel booking websites that mimic a legitimate one. Always book with a longstanding, trusted travel agency.

8. Monitor account activity when you return home

Fraudsters often sit on your bank or credit card details for weeks and months, hoping to catch you unawares when you’re back in a familiar routine. Again, if you don’t remember making a certain purchase, it doesn’t hurt to call your bank to double-check.