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Beyond the Travel Wallet: Protecting Your Personal Finances Away from Home

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It used to be that a little common sense and a reliable travel wallet would keep your cash and cards safe and secure when hitting the open road or taking to the friendly skies.

But how things have changed.

Modern travelers needs to be savvy in the ways of those looking to scam you, rob you or steal your identity. And they need to be vigilant when both planning their journeys and plotting their trek across whatever town or city is up next on their itinerary.

Fortunately, there are a number of proactive steps you can take, technologies you can leverage and slightly rebooted common sense steps to follow to make sure that your travel wallet, credit card account and identity are never compromised when you’re far away from home.

Tips to Heed Before You Pack Your Travel Wallet

If you thought all you needed to do was worry about losing your cash or credit cards – or getting them stolen along with your trusty travel wallet – then think again. The nefarious folks who prey on tourists today are tech-savvy predators.

Take the idea of RFID microchips, for example, which are tiny chips found in bank cards and passports storing your sensitive data. If a perp has a device known as an RFID reader, which is easily concealed in any bag, he or she can scan your cards and documents from up to 10 feet away. In crowded environments such as airports or buses, it’s easy to hide this underhanded activity.

But you do have a solid defense available. You can find travel wallets, bags and purses crafted from specially designed RFID-blocking technology. In fact, such accessories are becoming so widespread that they are now even… fashionable.1

The only practice better than carrying one safe wallet is to carry two. That’s right, sometimes the best defense against a mugger is having a “dummy” wallet with a few bucks and expired cards to toss criminals’ way in case you find yourself in this dangerous scenario.2

Many of the other tips we can provide for before boarding your plane or ship are a little more old school. For example, if you’re headed out of town for more than a week, put a temporary hold on your mail with the USPS – you can do it online at USPS.com – or have a neighbor grab it. By the same token, avoid packing bills that you’ve convinced yourself you’ll pay during downtime in the hotel room. The rationale for both tips is the same: allowing your bills and the sensitive information they comprise fall into the wrong hands potentially exposes you to identity theft. With that in mind, also clean out any unnecessary old credit cards hiding at the bottom of your wallet.3

Finally, do your best to blend in. This means don’t flaunt expensive jewelry in crowded areas, but also means that you shouldn’t exposure yourself and your family as vulnerable tourists that are easy pickings in the eyes of foreign matchstick men and others up to no good.

And if you simply can’t help yourself, be sure to take advantage of the hotel safe.

Cash & Carry: The Best Way to Pay for Your Travel

Knowing how to carry your money when travelling both domestically and abroad is one thing. Knowing how much – and what “type” of money or credit to keep in your travel wallet is another.

It’s always best to keep some cash on hand, ideally in the currency of the country you’re travelling to. (You can find tips, and best practices for when and how to change money, whether or not to use travelers’ checks and more information in our currency exchange article.)

Whether you’re stateside carrying a thick roll of hundreds or packing Euros a plenty across the pond, think twice about where you’ll be traveling and whether you’ll need to take your money out publically. In other words, you don’t want to be that tourist who’s constantly thumbing through a thick wad of bills right out in the open.

Pre-paid debit cards are becoming a more and more popular option for travelers for two reasons. First, it helps you set a budget and stick to it. If you only want to spend $100 per day, just get a card for each day of your trip, with an emergency credit card or cash kept somewhere safe, too. Also, pre-paid debit cards limit the amount of money that can be stolen from you. That said, there are a few details to keep in mind if you choose to go the route of pre-paid debit cards:

  • Cards may come with a monthly fee and/or an activation fee. If you’re going to spend the value stored on the card immediately, then the latter point shouldn’t be a concern.
  • ATM fees still apply if you get a card capable of dispersing cash through one. Be sure to find out what the fees are before purchasing the card.

  • Some establishments, such as gas stations and restaurants, may place a hold on your card for an amount higher than your purchase. This hold is only temporary, but be sure to check your balance so you know how much money you have access to at any given time. 4
  • We already mentioned currency conversion. If you purchased a pre-paid debit card for American dollars and are buying something in Euros – or any foreign currency, for that matter – know that a conversion fee will be charged. Be sure you shop around for this fee, similar to ATM charges, to see which cards offer the most competitive rates.

Americans alone spent nearly $40 billion on pre-paid debit cards last year alone. And these card’s capabilities continue to advance. For example, American Express’ reloadable card offers online account management capabilities, online statements and even one free ATM transaction per month. If you join the fray, just be sure to do your homework and select the card that will net you the most value.5

Maintaining Privacy and Protecting Your Identity

Sometimes crooks don’t need your travel wallet, mail or an RFID scanner to help themselves to your various accounts.

With laptops and tablets consuming travelers’ attention these days, it’s easy enough to find a strategic spot to sit and watch folks unwittingly access their bank accounts and other sensitive data. One way to create a privacy fence between you and criminals is to get a privacy filter for your screen. Ranging from about $50 to $100, and coming in all the colors and sizes you could ever want, these filters only allow people to read a screen if they’re staring at it dead on.6

Unfortunately, you can’t apply such filters to ATM screens. But you can choose safe locations to draw money, preferably indoors at banks and other credible institutions. Be aware of your surroundings. If someone is infringing on your personal space or you simply get an uneasy feeling, cancel your transaction and walk away.

When it comes to your smart phone, consider adding a security code before travelling if you don’t have one. This will allow you to turn off and lock your screen after a pre-determined amount of time. There are also a number of apps that allow you to remotely message, lock or even erase the contents of your phone if it’s lost or stolen.

Similarly, be careful which Wi-Fi networks you trust. If you need to send an email and see a random, open network, think twice before trusting it. Even hotel, airport and other free hotspots should be approached cautiously. Ensure all your data will be erased at the end of your session before typing in anything that can be used to compromise your identity.

Lastly, practice responsible social media posting. Just because you and your travel wallet are safe and sound abroad doesn’t mean you need to broadcast it out, potentially alerting others that your home is unoccupied and ripe for the picking. Wait until you get home to share vacation photos over Facebook and Twitter.

Unless you’re traveling for business, you’re rarely going to arrive home with more money in your pocket than when you left. That said, by adhering to some simple tips and evolving your defenses to match those looking to take advantage of you, it’s possible to enjoy your getaway without sweating who else may be spending your money.

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Dec 08, 2016