The recent Hyatt Hotels payment systems hack was another reminder that our money is never truly safe anywhere, even at the most seemingly secure and trustworthy points of sale.
Yet while the chance of this kind of massive data breach happening to the average traveler is low, you and your dollars are still vulnerable when vacationing in unfamiliar surroundings. A stolen or misplaced wallet or purse can mean your cards or cash are gone, and your identity put at risk. Ambitious pickpockets exist in even the most exotic of locations — and in a foreign country, where security measures vary and language barriers exist, theft or fraud to your finances can put an end to your trip.
Luckily, there are helpful ways you can protect your money when touring at home or abroad. Consider these seven tips to keep your credit cards and personal finances secure the next time you travel.
Keep Your Bank in the Know
Banks and credit card providers are known to temporarily freeze accounts if they notice more spending or withdrawals than usual. It's only a safety precaution in the event your card may have been stolen. "If you live in Chicago and your credit card company sees charges coming in from Rome, they might conclude someone's already stolen your card and freeze it," writes Martha White for Bankrate.com. Prevent this by telling the card companies about your upcoming travel itinerary. And in the event you do misplace your plastic, it'll be easier to notify them.
Get a Travel Debit Card
When I visited Europe, I opened a temporary travel checking account through my bank and left my regular debit cards at home. It will have a set expiration date for when you return home, and a balance that you set yourself. Having just the one card on your person not only keeps your spending disciplined while you travel, but if you lose the card, a thief only has access to that card, not the funds in your main account back home.
Avoid Nonbank ATMs
You should try to limit your ATM usage anyway, especially in other countries where fees, combined with differences in the currency exchange rate, can cost you money. But if you must make withdrawals from your checking account, stick exclusively with official bank ATMs. According to Bankrate, phony ATMs do pop up from time to time in high-traffic tourist areas. The site recommends opting for ATMs in banks, airports, or hotels; you can also check with your card issuer or bank for locations of their official ATMs, just to be sure. Of course, visit ATMs that are in full view of the street, during daylight hours.
Protect Your Phone
Guarding your money during a vacation isn't just about protecting your cash or cards. If your phone falls into the wrong hands, your bank account information can be accessible to a stranger who'll go on a spending spree with your money. Always keep your smartphone and laptop PIN- and password-enabled on the welcome screen; Money Crashers also recommends setting up your devices to auto-lock after a minute or two of inactivity.
Lock Up Money and Log On to Your Bank Account
Even though you're on vacation, away from the cares of work and home, that doesn't mean you should stop being mindful of your banking activity. Experts recommend that if you bring cash or other credit cards with you, don't carry them all at once; instead, lock them in your hotel room's safe. Keep paper and digital copies of your card and account numbers, in case they've been compromised and you need to report the fraudulent activity. Don't get paranoid, but stay vigilant. Never lose sight of your wallet and cash wherever you go.
Frequently log on to your bank account to monitor your activity, either on your laptop or via your bank's smartphone app. And make sure the Wi-Fi connection is secure. It may seem like a hassle, but you never know when you might spot some suspicious, unauthorized activity.
Stash Your Cash
No, not under the mattress or inside the Bible in the hotel nightstand. Those are popular places where thieves look. Carry cash sparingly, and carry it on you strategically. Experts recommend using a money belt, worn underneath your clothes. Hide some cash inside the lining of your shoesor inside your sock, or look for outerwear with hidden zippers that aren't readily spotted. Some women may even use their bra cups to hide money!
While keeping your wallet in your back pocket is not recommended (making for an easy steal), aim to keep some money in there; an empty wallet could tip off a potential mugger that your cash is indeed hidden somewhere else on your body. Some experts advocate the carrying of a "dummy" wallet: Keep a few bucks inside as a decoy for thieves to take without jeopardizing the rest of your funds.
Make It Look Like You're Home
It's not all about guarding the assets you have with you on vacation. If your house looks like it's been unattended, burglars can tell you haven't been home, making it a breeding ground for a robbery. Jenna Lee of Credit Karma recommends putting a hold on your mail; letting your mail and newspapers build up is one way that thieves can tell there's nobody picking them up.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to pick up packages delivered to your door, and use timers on your inside and outside lights to give the impression your house is occupied. It would be a shame if protecting your money on vacation meant losing it on the return home.
This article first appeared at DealNews.