Bank Card Safety Tips for Travelers

ATMs are the best way to get cash — just be on guard against the most common scams.

While you’re not at any more risk for bank fraud when on the road than at home, the potential hassle involved is much greater. 

Bring fewer cards and keep tabs on them. Take with you only the credit and debit cards that you expect to use, plus a backup, and keep them protected from pickpockets in your money belt. Upon returning home, verify the balance and charges on your debit and credit cards. Some travelers monitor balances as they travel, though it’s important to be careful when accessing a financial account online.

Don’t use a debit card for purchases. Because a debit card pulls funds directly out of your bank account, potential charges incurred by a thief are scary — it’s your money that’s gone, and it will stay gone until the fraudulent use is investigated by your bank. For that reason, Limit your debit card use to cash-machine withdrawals. To make purchases,  pay with cash or a credit card.

Act quickly if your card is lost or stolen. Report it immediately by making a call to your credit-card company, as your liability can be linked to timely reporting. You’ll likely be on the hook for only $50, but you should still act quickly.

Beware of stuck cards. Keep an eye out for anything in the card slot that could trap your card (or in the cash dispenser that could trap the cash). If your debit card gets stuck in an ATM, don’t re-enter your PIN. Thieves have been known to insert a thin loop of tape cleverly designed to trap your card in the slot, then promptly arrive on the scene posing as a Good Samaritan. They’ll either tell you that you can retrieve it by retyping your PIN, or point to a sign recommending that you enter your PIN twice if there’s trouble. Either way, someone is nearby watching you enter your code. Once you give up on getting your card to eject and leave the scene, the criminals collect it and use it.

If your card or cash does get stuck, try to avoid leaving the machine. If you’re traveling with a partner, have one person go inside the bank while the other one stands by the machine — if your card or cash has indeed been trapped, the thieves won’t wait long to retrieve it.

Don’t trust “helpful” strangers. 

Also, pay attention to strangers loitering near a cash machine, especially if they’re in pairs (most commonly, the first one distracts you; the second one grabs your cash).

Alert Your Bank and Credit Card Company of Your Travel Plans

This is a great habit to get into if you don’t want your credit card company or bank to put a hold on your card while you are overseas.