Don't let fraud ruin your vacation

As summer winds down, many Canadians are taking their last trips before it's back to the grindstone with work and school. One thing that can put a damper on a trip is credit card fraud, so be sure to take precautions while you're travelling, and know what to do if the worst happens to you.

Travelling leaves you vulnerable
The chip-and-PIN technology that Canadians are accustomed to reduced fraud by 23 per cent between 2012 and 2013, according to the Canadian Bankers Association. However, some other countries, have been slower to adopt this technology. The U.S. is only now gearing to switch to chip cards, and most of the new cards only require a signature to verify the cardholder's identity, rather than a PIN, which is considered more secure.

"The potential for credit card fraud is far greater in other countries because you're using chip and signature rather than chip-and-PIN," says Nick Mastromarco, the managing director for North American retail payments at Bank of Montreal (BMO). fraud-on-vacation

At merchants that that don't use chip card technologies, criminals can tamper with payment terminals to obtain your card information and create a counterfeit credit card, says Kate Payne, spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association.

On top of that, there are all the usual ways thieves can steal from you, whether you're at home or away. For example, your card could be lost or stolen, then used by whoever found or took it.

Take extra precautions
The possibility of fraud doesn't mean your credit card isn't secure or that you shouldn't use it while on vacation. It's just important to protect your card vigilantly.

Mastromarco recommends several things you can do. These include never lending your credit card to anyone, keeping your PIN private and choosing a PIN that's easily guessed. He also suggests treating your credit card as if it's cash.

"If you'd never leave your cash unattended, don't leave your card unattended," Mastromarco says. "When you're on holidays, don't leave your credit card on the counter of your hotel room, make sure you stow it away in a safety deposit box." Never let your card out of your sight, he says, and if you have to -- say, at a restaurant -- be sure to check it's actually your card when you get it back.

You should also keep an eye on your account via online, mobile or phone banking. "Most victims do not know their cards have been compromised until unauthorized payments appear on their bills," says Payne. But if you're checking your account remotely, it should be easy for you to spot a discrepancy quickly. Then, Payne says, report it to your credit card company right away.

Report any fraud immediately
"Make a list of your credit cards and their numbers [and bank and card company phone numbers] before you travel and keep it in a secure place [separate from your cards], which typically helps when you're calling in for a lost or stolen card," Mastromarco says. "As soon as you realize your card is gone, call."

Your bank should spring into action, with the goal of making recovery as smooth as possible so you can return to enjoying your vacation. "The first thing we do is block that card right away to ensure it does not get compromised any further and then, perhaps most importantly, we start to make plans for you to get an emergency card replacement or get some funds so you can continue on your trip," says Mastromarco.

He says BMO will liaise with another bank or credit union within its network that's in the country you're in to issue you a replacement card or temporary funds. All you have to do is show up to that banking institution. "We know it's a time of angst for customers, so obviously, time is of the essence," Mastromarco says. "We want you to go back to enjoying your vacation as soon as possible."

Remember, you're not on the hook
Even if your card is stolen or compromised, try not to let it ruin your trip. Remember, all Canadian credit card companies offer zero liability for fraudulent purchases.

"Customers using bank-issued credit cards are fully protected from fraud," says Payne. "Visa, MasterCard and American Express have zero-liability policies so the cardholder is not responsible for fraudulent charges on their card."

"Credit cards are still the safest and most reliable way to spend while you're on vacation," Mastromarco says. "I don't want anyone to feel majorly concerned or to significantly alter their plans. Just because something bad might happen, we have you covered and we want you to go enjoy your holiday."

See related: 4 ways to get your wallet ready for vacation, 6 ways cardholders can save on vacations
Published August 7, 2015

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