Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends that they’ve had their ATM or credit cards hacked while on the road. When I called into my bank to advise that I was travelling, the coordinator told me that she’d been getting a lot of “hot card” alerts, i.e. stolen or hacked cards.
The challenge of getting money on the road today is, unless you’re carrying all the cash you need, you’re dependent upon cards. Travelers cheques aren’t worth taking (imho) as it’s harder to find places who will cash them. If they do cash them, the fees can be up to 40% of the face value. Plus, the exchange rate is often better with cards. Certain credit cards & banks will waive the foreign transaction fee (Capital One, Chase Sapphire, etc.) so it literally can pay to use cards.
In general, your cards could be compromised anywhere (Hello, Target!). However, it’s a bit easier to deal with the issue when you’re home vs. travelling. So, here are some tips to help lessen the chances of being inconvenienced by “hot cards” on the road:
1. Bring 2 credit cards from separate banks – If one card gets compromised, then, you will have the other one. Some exceptional cards will express you a new card but you’ll still need something while you’re waiting.
2. Bring 2 ATM cards – Some banks offer fee free checking – or you may have multiple checking accounts with your bank. Use one of them as your “travel” account. Deposit enough money in this account to cover your travel expenses. If something does happen to that card/account on the road, it’s not your main checking account.
3. Use an old hotel key card to get into bank ATMs after hours – The bank coordinator told me that she thought some of the hacking occured from inserting the card in the door slot to access the ATM. That may or may not be the case, but, if you’re concerned, use the old hotel key to gain access. I recommend carrying a card with a magnetic strip in your suitcase anyway. Many eco hotels require the key card to be in a slot to turn on the lights in your room. I, personally, have left the room and the key card in the slot as I’ve departed. While it’s not a super pain to get a new a key card, why waste the time?
4. Use AMEX or Visa Gift cards in lieu of cards or cash for shopping – In some ways, you could consider these the new travelers’ cheques as they’re widely accepted and independent of your accounts.
If you do get hacked or lose your cards, I recommend calling the banks ASAP to report your accounts being compromised & to discuss your options. If you lose your ATM card, you may have the option for the bank to run your credit card through their terminal. They may be able to give you cash at a lower interest rate than if you used your credit card as a straight ATM card in the machine.
I hope these tips help and I wish you safe travels.