Credit Cards by 401(K) 2012, CC
A couple weeks ago, a good friend of mine was a victim of bank fraud. So this week I asked the question, "How do you protect yourself from bank fraud when traveling or living abroad?" Travel bloggers from around the globe took the time out to share with us some of their personal tips.
*Link-up your own travel-tip blog posts at the end of the post!

My Favorite Tip to Avoid Bank Fraud!

As usual, all of the advice given was useful and applicable, however one of them really stood out to me, not only because of its practicality, but also because it gives us all a reality check!

Lindsay from The Traveluster says, "I was the victim of credit card fraud in South Africa last year. American Express put an immediate hold on my card and contacted me via email and voicemail then later refunded all charges (over $4,000 in a few days!). 1) If you are at a restaurant in a foreign country, don't let the waiter walk off with your card. Insist that they scan and charge your card in front of you (or pay with cash if they don't have a portable machine). This is what happened to me. A waiter took my card and made a physical copy then proceeded to use it all around South African stores. I heard later that this was becoming a common problem there. I identified the restaurant and date and let AmEx know. 2) Always travel with at least two cards. My AmEx was disabled for the duration of my time in Africa (another 30 days after the fraudulent activity). I would have been stuck without a credit card if I hadn't brought two. I had my bank debit card as well. Most credit card companies are pretty good about alerting you when there is suspicious activity."

When I first read this post, the only thing I could say was, "Wow!" The thought of even possibly losing that much money is unthinkable. I'm glad that Lindsay was able to recover, however, and even came out with a couple of useful tips to share from that experience.

Old Cards Shredded Up by David Huang, CC

But What About Tips From Other Globe Drifters?

How do they protect themselves from bank fraud while traveling or living abroad? 

I took the time to ask a few of my fellow travel bloggers and expats for their thoughts and suggestion on this, and they gave me some great insight into their very own "smart travel" drifter tips.

Tips on From Other Travelers on How to Avoid Bank Fraud

 Mike from Bemused Backpacker says, "There are a couple of extra things to be aware of but mostly it is simple common sense, as long as you have that and you are vigilant and alert, there is no reason to be overly paranoid. I only keep a credit card on me to use as an extra emergency back up fund and I would never let a vendor take it out of my hands or my sight if I ever had to use it (those cloning scams are very quick). I use my debit card (from a separate bank) to get cash out of ATM's (again being careful that the ATM is genuine and has not been tampered with) and simply use cash for any and all transactions. If I ever have to buy a plane ticket over the internet for example I am wary of things like phishing or keystroke logging software in general internet cafe's. Basically all the things you would normally do at home. It is also a good idea to have your bank/credit card overseas contact number stored in your phone if you need to contact them (which you should do fairly regularly) and always let their fraud department know where/when you will be travelling so they don't cancel your cards if you try and use them."

Diana from DTravelsRound says, "I set up alerts delivered daily to my inbox that shows my account balance, and also update my bank about my whereabouts. The emails really help me monitor my account since I don't remember to log-on and check it regularly."

Prince Erick from Minority Nomad says, "I have alerts on my account that triggers text and emails for when a transaction is over a certain amount. Also I inform my bank when I'm in a new country. If I don't my fraud department is set to question every third transaction from a new country. I also use VPNs to protect my log in info."

Dyanne from TravelnLass says, "I've learned many tricks for mitigating the risk of fraud and/or loss of funds while bouncing around the globe for the past 30+ years. But probably the single most effective tip I can share is to... Never, but NEVER rely on a just a single credit/debit card when you're traveling or living abroad! I wouldn't dream of traveling without at least two, and ideally three different debit cards – and here's the key: each from a DIFFERENT BANK. Split your funds among the multiple accounts. That way, if one of your accounts is compromised, and/or you lose your card, it gets stolen, or your bank decides to freeze your account due to suspected fraud activity (because you uh, neglected to advise them of your dash into Myanmar - another financial travel tip), you still have one or two other cards you can use (to keep a roof over your head and feed your face daily) until you can sort out the issue with the problem card. Think about it. When you're on the trail: no money, seriously no funny."

Nikki from Out Abroad says, "I use a credit union so I have a good relationship with my bank (and fewer fees!). Before I leave, I meet with a rep, tell them my travel plans and ask if they have any advice. They'll note in my account all of my travels. I get their business card with direct contact information if there's ever a problem. This is especially good for long term travelers."

Christine from Food Wine Travel says, "I carry my passport and cards in RFID sleeves, inside a slash-proof shoulder bag that has RFID pockets. RFID blocking material helps prevent electronic pickpocketing and identity theft. I'm vigilant about always clutching my bag tightly, and never, repeat never, put it down on the ground next to me or slung over the back of a chair."

Dani from Going Nomadic says, "I have 2 bank accounts with 2 debit cards. The cards are only linked to a single acct. They are both out of the same bank, but if someone got their hands on one card, they can't only get money out of 1 acct. I keep a main account and a secondary account. 

When i need money, i transfer a little into the secondary account and go to the bank. My main bank card only comes out when I am moving places. Otherwise it stays at home/hostel/hotel safe with my passport. I also will only put a travel advisory on the secondary card sometimes, so any foreign transaction on the main card will alert the bank. (They even just contacted me after I bought 3 tickets at once, less than $300USD, on Colombian airlines last week and forgot to tell them). 

The last thing I do is I have a bank (Schwab) that specifically deals with travelers, expats, etc. They are easy to contact anywhere in the world (will even accept a foreign collect call), can ship new bank cards anywhere in the world, and really does watch your transactions."

Talon from 1Dad1Kid says, "Only use ATMs physically connected to a bank. Double check that the card reader isn't wobbly and don't use if it is. Always cover your hand when entering your PIN. If your bank offers it, sign up for emails any time the card or account is used. This allows you to be immediately notified of fraudulent activity."

Marielle from Blazing Speed of Light Machines says, "I only carry cards whose numbers I have memorized. I get email alerts for unusual activity, and make sure I have the customer service numbers written down somewhere. And I try not to use them too often and carry cash. Which has its own problems, but I'd rather risk losing a bit in my pocket than my identity."


And Now It's Time For YOU to Share Your Travel Tip Posts!


If you enjoyed this article, and would like to know more about this, and other posts, don't forget to SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter!

And now we ask you - How do you protect yourself from bank fraud when living or traveling abroad?

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18/10/2013 3:17pm

Ugh. I got stuck in weird places with malfunctioning bank cards over and over. Sometimes it was just the bank's fault, too. Have backup plans. And backup plans to those backup plans.

18/10/2013 5:18pm

I love the tip about the credit union. They're less prominent, but they usually try harder to make the customer happy. I should try and find myself a local credit union.

By the way, I added a link to my post on the 5 things that you absolutely must do before leaving home with credit cards. I hope that can help provide some extra information.

18/10/2013 10:43pm

Eeeekkk... that's alot of $$$ to be out of. So cash is preferable, carry at least 2 credit cards & 2 debit cards from different banks & RFID. If I ever travel international, I'll read this article again.

26/10/2013 11:10pm

Great post.

Having a backup card is an absolute must.

Great blog by the way!


31/10/2013 6:48pm

Some very good tips here. Identity fraud just happened to me while I was traveling through China on my way to Tibet. Luckily I had a backup along with some extra cash but that doesn't mean it wasn't a major headache. I've learned my lesson and will carry a LARGE wad of cash with me, dispersed into different parts of my backpack along with a few extra credit/debit cards.

I've also learned to keep one or two extra "bad" cards on me that have expired along with a "dummy wallet". This is for the rare case I may get a thief to steal my belongings, they won't get anything valuable.

I know, off topic but it's still useful information. ;-)

27/11/2013 6:33am

OF course your story had to take place in South Africa. After living there for three years, I can share one more tip, though this one doesn't apply so much to traveling but living there: If you have any foreign bank accounts, DO NOT have them send your statements to you in South Africa. Use a foreign post office box instead, and have someone (friend, family, company) ship you the mail from there in a weekly pouch by courier. The South African postal service is completely corrupt, and not only will your packages disappear at an alarming rate, your financial information will be combed through and mined for anything useful. What happened to us: We got a new debit card sent to us in the mail from our German account, and, separately, the pin number. Well, we got the pin number but never the card, and were just about to complain to the bank when the bank contacted us, by email, and asked if we did indeed want to withdraw 10,000 Euros and have it sent to Nedbank in South Africa. Of course we didn't and had them send us the request they had received by letter, and of course it was a fraud written in deplorable German (which was what had gotten our bank suspicious). The scary thing was not that they knew our account number (from stealing it from the intercepted bank card, we presume) but that it was signed with a perfect replica of my husband's signature (which they must have gotten from another letter as that letter wouldn't have included his signature). Needless to say, we instructed our bank to hold all our mail after that incident and only communicate via email.


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    I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters deeply affects my view of travel. Read more...