You’ve already booked a suite at Le Bristol Paris, checked the menus at top-ranked restaurants and reserved your flights.
But have you checked “financial security” off your summer vacation to-do list?
Many people don’t, like the American family who arrived in Rome in 2011 for Easter week. Before they could even see the Sistene Chapel, pickpockets nabbed their wallets, passports and cash.
What should have been the trip of a lifetime turned into a nightmare as they spent hours in the U.S. Embassy securing their bank accounts and waiting for replacement tickets, passports and credit cards to arrive so they could resume their plans.
“Financial fraud is on the rise around the world,” said Briane Grey, director of corporate security for City National Bank. “Anyone traveling abroad is a preferred target for social engineering scams and identity theft.”
Before you leave home, consider these steps to help secure your finances:
- Notify your bank and credit card providers that you’ll be out of the country; store their helpline phone numbers so you can quickly close accounts if necessary.
- Pay bills before you go to avoid transmitting sensitive data over unsecured networks.
- Leave excess cash, unnecessary credit cards and ID cards at home.
- Bring one credit card equipped with an RFID security chip; many overseas retailers don’t require you to input a PIN.
Don’t wear designer watches and expensive jewelry, or carry your Prada bag, while you’re touring the city or taking in a museum. Americans already stand out to crooks who scour train stations and tourist sites looking for wealthy travelers who make good “marks,” Grey said.
And be wary about your valuables even while they’re in your room. A common scam at European hotels involves visitors claiming to be “room inspectors.” While one distracts you at the door, the other enters your room and takes cash or jewelry you’ve left on a nightstand or in an open room safe. Never let people into your room if you weren’t expecting them and lock your valuables in a safety deposit box at the hotel desk rather than using the not-so-secure safe in the room.
While taking in the sights, stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings, said Mark Meader, vice president for industry affairs at the American Society of Travel Agents. Perennial scams, such as pickpocketing and overcharging people unfamiliar with local currencies, still rip off many travelers every year, he said.
Sign up for the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and consider buying travel insurance, Meader said. Your travel agent can help you identify the right coverage.
Here are some additional tips:
- Avoid connecting to Wi-Fi, especially if it is public; activate your phone’s global capabilities before you leave and use your 3G connection.
- Protect your phone and other mobile devices with passwords so thieves can’t access your data.
- Make copies of your passports, driver’s licenses, health insurance cards and tickets and store them separately from your wallet.
- Leave a copy of a detailed itinerary with a friend or relative so they can reach you in an emergency.
Going someplace exotic is exciting. Following these common-sense steps will help ensure that you don’t lose your shirt while you’re having the adventure of a lifetime.