10 ways to protect your credit card on vacation

January 31, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Whether you plan to spend spring break on a beach or on the ski slopes, the only thing worse than losing your luggage is discovering your credit card has been lost or stolen. And discovering unauthorized charges on your credit card statement when you get home ranks a close second.

Here are 10 ways to protect your account information and resolve unauthorized card use whether you “staycation” close to home or travel abroad.

  1. Don’t send card information by email or text: If you are booking travel or changing travel arrangements when you are away, remember most email and texts are not secure. All it takes for someone else to charge to your account is your card number, expiry date and security code. Even your name and address can be enough information for identity theft.
  2. Don’t lend your credit card: Do not give even family members your credit card number or the card to use on your behalf. If you are prepared to authorize a family member to use your account on a regular basis, get a separate card with the appropriate credit limit.
  3. Don’t share your PIN: Protect your PIN at all times and don’t write it down on a slip you keep in your wallet. If you can’t remember your PIN, go into your bank and choose a new one before you leave. Don’t use obvious numbers like your birthday or your telephone number.
  4. Call before you leave: Financial institutions issuing credit cards have software that recognizes unusual patterns of behaviour. For that reason, on several occasions my card has been refused when I was travelling outside Canada. Now I always call to tell my credit card company where I am going and how long I will be in each city.
  5. Check your credit limits: Make sure you know when your card expires and the withdrawal/credit limits on your debit/credit cards. I typically pay off my cards completely before leaving on a major trip, particularly if a payment is due in my absence.
  6. Put the card company on speed dial: Make a note of your credit and debit card numbers, as well as issuer phone numbers, and keep them in a safe place in case your card is lost or stolen. Because I had CIBC VISA’s toll free number on speed dial when my card disappeared in a Peking market several years ago, I was able to immediately report the loss and cancel the card.
  7. Carry only what you need: When travelling outside the country, I leave my rewards cards, hospital cards and other miscellaneous wallet contents at home. However, my husband and I usually bring several different credit cards and bank cards as back-up and keep all but one in the hotel room safe. A friend who recently visited Russia had his debit card “eaten” by an ATM. Fortunately his wife had her own debit card and was still able to withdraw the cash they needed for the balance of their trip.
  8. Keep receipts: Review credit card receipts before you sign, and monitor both credit card and bank account statements carefully on your return. On a trip to St. Martin, I tried to withdraw money from a generic ATM machine to pay cash for a pair of earrings. The machine refused my card but spit out a receipt. When I got home I realized my account had been debited, but I never received the funds. It took months for CIBC to trace the transaction, but I did eventually get my money back.
  9. Currency conversion: When using an unfamiliar currency, what looks like a deal, may turn out to be very expensive. Smart phone apps are available that will allow you to do on the spot calculations. VISA also has a currency calculator that can give you an indication of the rate you will pay when using your credit card. But remember, this converter uses a single rate per day with respect to any two currencies and rates apply to the date VISA processes the transaction, which may differ from the actual date of the purchase.
  10. Beware of contactless credit cards: Many newly-issued credit cards and other important documents pose major fraud and privacy concerns because they are designed to be scanned through the air. “Contactless” credit cards have an embedded computer chip called a radio frequency identification, or RFID tag. When waved near a payment terminal in a store or by an unscrupulous individual using a manual unit, the chip supplies the card’s number and expiry date through radio waves, avoiding the need to swipe or insert the card. RFID blocking wallets or passport holders can be ordered online.

And finally, never let the card out of your sight when you make a purchase. In the few minutes that a clerk or gas station attendant has your card it can be swiped through a skimming device. This is less of a problem as more merchants are using portable wireless terminals, but this technology is not universally available in some parts of the world. 

Can you suggest other ways to protect your credit cards on vacation?  Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com. If your idea is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you take steps to improve credit card security in 2013.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

7-Feb Valentine’s Day Budget-friendly Valentine’s Day ideas
14-Feb Retirement savings Pros & cons of available savings vehicles
21-Feb RRSP/SPP deadline How should you invest your retirement savings?

Also see:
Five things you should never do with your credit card
Readers respond to credit card security tips.

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1 thought on “10 ways to protect your credit card on vacation

  1. These tips to protect your credit cards are so great! I didn’t know about this before, and I was on vacation and I got a charge for some lethbridge plumbers and I was like what I didn’t buy that. So now I use these tips.

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