How To Protect Yourself From Credit Card Fraud When Traveling

Unfortunately, debit and credit card fraud are hazards of travel, both at home and abroad. Fortunately, traveling to more than 100 countries in my career as a travel writer, I’ve had very few bad experiences. But there was the time in the Athens Airport when my husband and I were ripped off when we used a stand-alone ATM (it had a bank’s name painted on it). We got our card back but no cash.

If you want to avoid credit card problems at home and abroad, here are simple travel tips to protect yourself

A chip-based credit card

Travel with a credit card that has a microchip (EMV) on the front. Many merchants abroad will only accept EMV credit cards, so your old credit card with a magnetic chip might leave you running to the bank for cash. Use your chip cards whenever possible both at home and when traveling abroad.

Put a travel alert on your accounts

Call your credit card companies before a trip to give them a travel alert with dates and specific countries or locations. If they see suspicious activity, they will be aware of where you are and where you aren’t traveling.

Store your credit card companies’ emergency numbers

Keep an updated list of your bank and credit card companies’ emergency phone numbers on your smart phone. Also make a list of these numbers and send them in a message to your email account. If your phone and credit cards are stolen, you can easily access the emergency numbers from your email.

Obtain a PIN number for all your credit cards

I’ve been told my credit card was “closed” several times abroad because I made multiple purchases in a short amount of time. To avoid this issue, use a PIN (Personal Identification Number) because this is the best way to reduce the likelihood of being declined. In my experience, most banks off this feature. If, for any reason, you can’t get cash advances on your debit card, you can use your credit card for cash.

Careful what ATMs you use

Don’t use an ATM that isn’t a bank designated AMT that is part of a permanent structure. In the Athens Airport my husband and I were ripped off when we used a stand-alone ATM (and it had a bank’s name on it). We got our card back but no cash. It took months of arguing with the bank to finally get reimbursed, and I believe that was only because we had a very good credit rating. Don’t forget to look around yourself and cover your hand when entering the PIN number. Hidden cameras can see your fingers and identify your PIN.

Avoid giving your card to service people

Overseas I don’t let my credit card out of my sight. I don’t give my card to a waiter or bar tender. Servers in restaurants and bars abroad should bring a card-reading devices to the table. I consider it a red flag when someone takes my card away.

Check the bill at restaurants

When you sign the credit card receipt at a restaurant or bar, look at the total amount. Many receipts have an empty line for “tips” and if you don’t fill it in or put a line through it, servers may add whatever they like.

Scrutinize your monthly credit card bills

Don’t think that your vigilance is over when your travels end. Check your credit card charges carefully and your bank account balances often.

Debit and credit card RFID sleeves

Slide your cards into thin sleeve protectors to make it more difficult for thieves with electronic readers to skim data from your cards. Available at Office Depot, REI and Amazon.

This article “Debit and Credit Card Fraud”originally appeared on