Safeguard your credit cards abroad

Published June 4th, 2015 - 04:00 GMT
Keep your credit card in sight at all times, such as when paying in a restaurant. (Shutterstock)
Keep your credit card in sight at all times, such as when paying in a restaurant. (Shutterstock)

Last week American Express Saudi Arabia Ltd. sent out a notice to every one of its cardholders in the Kingdom about the steps the company was taking to reduce the fraudulent, unauthorized use of American Express credit cards. While such fraud fighting activities go on year round, the company was reminding its card holders who might be travelling, of certain important measures to take before leaving home and during their trips.

“Our staff may need to contact you to verify the genuineness of transactions performed on your card,” the email advised. “In the event you receive such a call, we would appreciate your patience in assisting us to verify these transactions. If we are unable to contact you, your card may be blocked as a precautionary measure to prevent potential fraudulent use.

In such situations you are requested to call our customer service department who will activate the card after positively identifying you and verifying your transactions.”

To reduce the possibility of such precautionary blocking of the credit card, cardholders were asked to provide the company with a travel itinerary. The reason for this is that credit card providers use automated systems which alert on the registering of unusual transactions, no matter how small.

If a charge were made against a Saudi credit card from a restaurant in New Delhi, it’s certain that the anti-fraud system would immediately flag the transaction. Customer service representatives would first check to see if the cardholder had put forward a travel plan for a vacation in India. If no such notification could be found, the credit card would be immediately suspended until the cardholder could be contacted. Be advised that MasterCard, Visa and American Express all rely on such anti-fraud systems.

After notifying your credit card issuer about your trip plans, find the rules and regulations for using the card. Know the exchange rate for charges made on the card in other currencies. If you want to withdraw cash with a credit card or debit card, read the fine print when it comes to fees. Is there a fee for each withdrawal or a fee as a percentage of the total amount of cash withdrawn? Once again, what’s the currency exchange rate? How much of the card limit can be withdrawn in cash and how often?

It’s very important to keep your card in sight at all times. Some restaurants may claim they don’t have a mobile point of sale device. If so, get up and go to the checkout, rather than giving your credit card to a stranger. When typing in your PIN, cover the keypad so no one can see what you’re typing. If the keypad looks strange or the keys are hard to press, stop the transaction. Criminals have been known to place a fake keypad that records keystrokes on top of a real keypad.

Don’t be shy about taking such precautions. Credit card skimming devices can be affixed to automated teller machines or held in a pouch kept at the waist of a waiter or store clerk. It takes just seconds for the card to be swiped through such a device. If a PIN is entered in full view of the criminal or a camera, it becomes simple for fraud to occur. Even if the card issuer stops a fraudulent transaction it will be necessary to cancel the card. That can make for a depressing vacation.

It is essential to empty your wallet before every trip. Remove everything that won’t be needed and to a small sheet of paper, copy the numbers of the cards you are taking and the issuer’s telephone numbers. Don’t use your phone to take photos of the cards and don’t use the copy machine at work.  Keep this paper with the credit or debit card details in a safe place, but not your wallet. Some people leave the paper at home with a relative. Others put it in their locked suitcase or set up a small cloud storage account specifically to record such information. If possible, travel with at least two credit cards of different types.

While you’re reading the rules and regulations for the use of your credit cards while abroad, check on the special perks that might be available to you by using a credit card to buy specific items. Some card issuers offer trip insurance when an airline ticket is purchased with their credit card. Many card issuers offer accident protection insurance for items purchased with the card, up to specific limits. Be sure to purchase mobile phones, tablet computers and luggage with such credit cards. That way if the item gets damaged during travel, you can just file a claim for its replacement as soon as you return home.


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