I was on my way to Mexico, when, during a stopover in another state, a$300 credit card transaction at the airport was rejected. None of my three credit cards worked. Luckily my ATM card worked, so I paid with cash.
As I waited for my connecting flight, I contacted the credit card companies, and all three told me they had put an alert on my file because they suspected someone was using my card fraudulently. The red flags were the amount of the transaction and that the card was being used in another state.
I was transferred to the fraud department of each credit card company, and spent roughly an hour confirming my identity and explaining that I was out of my home state. They promised that the alert would be removed and that I would be able to use the cards.
I was disappointed when I arrived at my final destination several hours later. When I went to pay for ground transportation by credit card, the transaction was rejected. Once again I realized that the cashless economy was not perfect. My greater worry was that I would not be able to pay for dinners and any outings with on credit. Several days and telephone calls later, the credit cards worked again.
In the past four months, no fewer than a half dozen friends of mine have told me that their credit cards were cancelled because they had been compromised and used by strangers. There is no doubt card issuers suffer tremendous losses because of fraud and will err on the side of caution.
You can avoid these problems by letting your credit card company or bank know before you leave town, where you are going and for how long.
Aside from confirming your reservations and stopping you mail before leaving town:
Carry a debit card too – If you are unable to use your credit card because of a fraud alert, you still will be able to use your ATM card to withdraw money for purchases and emergencies. Keep some cash on hand as well, for restaurants and stores which may not accept credit card transactions.
Check your credit limit – Avoid going over your limit and resulting interest fees by making sure that you have available credit. Also check to make sure your card does not expire while you are out of town.
Verify the customer service number – If you leave the country, the customer service telephone number on the back of your card will likely not work. Find out the contact number for the country you visit.
Make a note of your card number – If your card is lost or stolen, you will want to have the number and expiration date on hand to close the account. Keep the information in a safe place or leave it with a trusted friend or relative.
Watch out for billing irregularities – Keep all receipts and reconcile them with your credit card statement, to identify any double charges or mistakes with restaurant charges, such as being charged for someone else’s meal.