Somehow, I still haven't worked out how, someone skimmed off $7000 from my MasterCard Debit Card. Yes, Debit Card. My own Money!
They begin with small increments, spending all over the world: China, Iraq, Europe; and over a series of hours, with growth in confidence, they began spending larger amounts until it was all gone… in under 2 days
Lucky for me, my bank has a 100% security guarantee… whatever that means.
Unlucky for me, they require a minimum of 45 days to investigate my claim, and I only have 17 days left until I depart for Turkey.
I hope to get my money back... in full; after all, nobody likes to have their hard earned cash stolen!
Saying that, there are a few things I have learned in the process:
- Make sure you reduce the daily limit on your credit/debit cards. This may help too much money being stolen, should someone get their hands on your details. I didn't do this until after my money was stolen.
- Let your financial institutions know your travel dates, and the countries you expect to visit. This prevents them blocking your card when you legitimately want to use it.
- Check your finances a couple of times a week, if possible (online banking).
- Use a Credit Card with a low limit, instead of a Debit Card. Better of spending the banks money than your own. Once you make a claim, you won't have to pay the interest on money you didn't spend.
People rave about Travel Money, but I don't see the point of opening up yet another card, with all the same security features as a Credit/Debit Card, and having to pay a loading fee every time you want to add value.
One upside of Travel Money cards though, is they lock in the exchange rate at the time you initially add value to the card. So, for example, if you use Travelex, you can lock in the exchange rate right now (while the dollar is strong), then pick up your card with the sum pre-loaded on it, at the airport, on your way out of the country; then, every time you withdraw cash overseas, you're getting the same rate.
Warning signs — what should I look out for?
- Does the ATM look like it normally does – can you see any unusual additions, marks or changes?
- Are there any signs that someone has tampered with the ATM - can you see any glue residue, exposed wires, pieces of double-sided tape?
- You notice something suspicious about the card slot on an ATM (e.g. an attached device).
- A shop assistant takes your card out of your sight to process your transaction.
- A shop assistant asks you to swipe your card through more than one EFTPOS machine.
- A shop assistant swipes your card through a different machine to the one you used.
- You notice unusual or unauthorized transactions on your account or credit card statement.
Keeping your Travel Money Secure
Travel Money Belts, Slash-proof Bags, fake wallets, there are many different things out there on the market to help you keep your cash and passports safe. But mostly, just use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, and you should do fine.
- Keep a close watch on your credit/debit cards during a transaction.
- Don't carry large sums of money around on you.
- Have a small quantity of "back up" money stashed away, so if your cash is stolen, you are not left stranded.
Vagio Damitio has several interesting suggestions on Vagabond.com:
- hollow out an old book
- hide it in the hollow hanger tube in the hotel closet
- have a hidden pocket inside the waistband of your pants
- ditch the wallet
Now, I don't know if I would go as far as stashing money secret-agent-style around the hotel room, or hollowing out a book.; but keeping an eye on your valuables while traveling is pretty much common sense. Sleep with your money belt on, or make use of your hidden pocket in your sleeping bag, if you're using one. Carry your valuables with you when you leave the hostel in your daypack. Don't go flashing your money around, use small change or small denominations where possible.
Cash is king
Sometimes you may not be near an ATM, no one uses travelers cheques anymore. Take a small amount of Euros or American dollars with you, as they are the most widely accepted currency. For example, in Turkey, you may be asked to pay a for a tourist visa on arrival, having Euros handy will make things run a lot more smoothly at arrivals.
A few more tips...
- Always know where your passport is.
- Lock your bag, you don't really need to go all out with the full all-over mesh locks, but keeping it secured to something sturdy while you're not in the room might be a good idea.
- Make use of the hostel/hotel safe. Get a receipt for items in the safe. If its your cash, make sure the sum is on the receipt.
- Take copies of your passport, itinerary, spare passport photos (great for visa applications), credit cards, bank and insurance contact numbers. Keep a copy in your webmail, or other secure online location.
- Apply for a credit card with low, or zero transaction fees overseas. I managed to find an Australian one called 28degrees, it has no overseas transactions, and no annual fees. Perfect.
- Last of all, if you don't need it, don't take it. Pack light.