A couple of months ago, my wife and I returned from a week in Europe, unpacked our bags, and put away the zero-international-transaction-fees credit card we used on the trip but never touch in real life.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. We start receiving emails and letters about large transactions we’ve never heard of, from countries we hadn’t visited. Room service at a hotel in France; a big-screen TV in the UK. These definitely weren’t purchases we were making from here in the States—and they were adding up. And, oh yeah, there were late fees to go along with the charges.
Don’t worry—we weren’t out any money. Of course, someone has to pay. Often, it’s the merchant—a particular burden for small businesses—or, sometimes, the bank or credit card company. But we learned a good lesson about travelling internationally—one worth hearing if you have similar plans this year.
Last fall, the U.S. started making the switch to EMV smart payment technology. That is, the payment cards in your wallet now have a chip on the front instead of the less-secure magnetic stripe.
And although it’s common in other parts of the world to verify both credit and debit chip transactions with a PIN, U.S. merchants aren’t set up to handle those just yet. Still, European merchants want your business and so, when travelling abroad, your PIN-less card will generally be approved without any verification. And that can lead to your information falling into the wrong hands. Call it oversharing without even trying.
As you can imagine, European thieves love this no-PIN loophole as it presents an opportunity for them to spend away without being asked for that pesky PIN. Suddenly, your American credit card is a hotter commodity than usual.
Unfortunately, theft can happen. But if you’re travelling abroad this year, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your bank and let them know when you’re home; that way, they’ll know that any foreign transaction is unlikely to be legitimate. It’s also a good practice to keep a sharp eye on your statement, and to report anything suspicious immediately.
Here are a few travel tips:
- Clean out your wallet. No need to take every credit and debit card you own.
- Don’t use your debit card. It is typically easier to dispute fraudulent transactions with your financial institution with a credit card than with a debit card.
- Look out for strange-looking ATMs, which may have a card skimmer attached.
Keeping these tips in mind can help you return from your journey with memories and souvenirs, instead of a victim of fraud.
Posted by Jeff Rutledge, associate editor
Editor’s note: This content was lightly edited and updated on Feb. 2, 2018.