It’s finally time to go on that vacation you’ve waited for all year. Whether you’re headed on a relaxing trip or a wild adventure, your credit cards will be the last thing on your mind. While you’re preparing for your big trip, figuring out how to protect credit your cards while traveling should be on your to-do list.
Thieves and credit scams are becoming a bigger threat, and travelers unknowingly open themselves up to risk, such as credit card fraud, all the time. But don’t worry. When you’re prepared, you can enjoy your travel plans stress-free. Here are a few things you can do to protect your credit—and your identity—the next time you hit the road.
Take Just What You Need
This doesn’t just apply to your suitcase—it applies to your wallet, too. There’s no need to bring all of your credit cards with you when you travel. If you do, you’re opening yourself to additional theft or loss potential. Pick two cards while you’re traveling, in case one gets compromised. While you’re out and about during your vacation, try to bring just one card. You can leave the other in a secure place in your hotel room, like the hotel safe.
Credit vs. Debit—Which One to Choose?
There are a few misconceptions about the safety of credit cards verses debit cards. While there’s a common misconception that credit is safer than debit, the reality is that both your credit and debit card offer nearly the same security.
Both credit cards and debit cards offer protection against fraudulent purchases. And if you have either a Mastercard or Visa, you’re in luck—both offer zero fraud liability. So, whether you favor your credit card or debit card, both are great options for traveling. Just make sure to keep an eye on those foreign transaction fees.
Keep an Eye on Your Cards
This might sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to leave your cards lying around. Make sure that you’re diligent—don’t leave your wallet unattended while you travel. Try to avoid keeping your wallet in a coat pocket, in a purse or backpack hung over a chair, etc. The last thing you want is to reach for your credit card, only to discover that it was stolen.
Don’t Take a Vacation from Monitoring Card Activity
Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you can take a break from checking your card activity. Keeping an eye on your activity will help you catch any fraudulent activity right away. Make sure to use good judgment when checking your credit card activity.
If you’re logging into your accounts via public wi-fi, make sure it’s secure, and always log out of your accounts on whatever device you’re using. You can also call your credit card company for a list of recent charges to avoid going online.
Sign Up for Text Alerts
Many credit and debit cards offer text alert options to alert you each time a charge is made, or to alert you of suspicious activity. It might be a good idea to activate this option as an extra layer of safety before you travel.
Keep Your Daily Cash Withdrawals Low
If you’re bringing along a card that has a high daily cash-out limit, consider lowering it. That way, if your card is compromised or stolen while you travel, you will have some control over the amount of cash a thief can drain from your account.
Read Your Receipts
This is a good idea whether you’re traveling or just using your card at home. Never sign a receipt before reviewing the charges. Once a receipt bears your signature it can be difficult to dispute those charges–which could potentially put you at financial risk.
Write Down Important Information
It’s always a good idea to have a plan in place for the worst-case scenario. Writing down the phone numbers and account numbers of your credit cards is a good idea in the event your cards or phone are stolen. Keep the written information in a safe place, such as a deposit box in your room, so that you can still contact your card companies and/or bank to alert them if an issue arises.
If you have a Visa or Mastercard, there’s some good news. They both offer emergency services where cardholders can get cash advances or emergency replacement cards.
Be Alert When Using an ATM
Whenever you hit the ATM on your journey, keep your eyes open. Pick an ATM in a safe, public location and take note of anyone suspicious around you before you make a withdrawal. ATMs that are in a secluded area are easy targets for theft. Savvy thieves can use a credit card skimmer in seconds to obtain your card information and commit fraud.
Ask About Security
Wherever you’re staying, whether it’s in a hotel or an Airbnb, ask the owner or manager how to secure their Wi-Fi and checkout systems are before using them. If they can’t guarantee a secure system, don’t take any chances.
Remember That Money is King
If you’re uncomfortable with the security of an establishment’s payment or checkout systems, using cash is always an option. While it’s not a good idea to carry large amounts of money, paying for meal or outing in cash is a surefire way to safeguard your information and protect your credit from potential identity theft and damage.
Unpack Your Wallet
Many of us keep very important information in our wallets on a daily basis, including social security cards and insurance cards. Consider leaving any card or item at home that is non-essential to your travels. An insurance card, for example, often contains enough identifying information to put you at risk if it’s stolen. And the last thing you’d want is for your Social Security number falling into the wrong hands.
Create a Dedicated Email Address
When you’re planning and booking travel, you’re probably exchanging a ton of emails. Consider creating a dedicated email that no one else knows about or has access to. If someone were to get access to an email account, with all of this information, the potential for damage to your credit could be very high.
Safeguard Your Cell Phone
Cell phones are arguably our most personal possession when it comes to financial and identifying information. We all use apps for a lot of different things, from banking to socializing. If you’re logged into all of your apps on your phone, that information is right at the fingertips of anyone that gets their hands on it. Make sure you have password protection or user ID touch set up to get into your phone and consider logging out of all of your apps.
Stay Off Social Media
Posting your whereabouts and advertising the fact that you’re away from home may open you up to risk. Consider what could happen if someone were to gain access to your home, office, or any other location where you keep personal information. Not only can property theft occur, but identity theft as well—it can take years for your credit to recover. Resist the urge to post that status update or photo, and save your social sharing for when you’re back at home.
If you’re concerned about your credit after traveling, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s credit report card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.