Travelers, Credit Cards Are Watching You
Last year, after returning home from a week in French
Polynesia, I had a startling message on my answering machine: "This
is Bank of America inquiring about charges made in Bora Bora on July
17. Please call as soon as possible regarding your account." I was
worried. Did someone steal my card number in Bora Bora and go on a
not so "bora boring" shopping spree? What I discovered surprised me.
My card wasnít stolen. Instead, the credit card company was
monitoring my spending.
had never before used my credit card in Bora Bora, the bank put a
hold on my account, deeming the charges questionable. Credit card
companies often do this when their computers detect an abnormal use
pattern. As I found out, this normally useful service can pose
problems for travelers.
As credit card scams have grown
worldwide, so too has the process to ferret out illegitimate charges
in those abnormal use patterns. Credit card companies have invested
heavily in sophisticated anti-fraud computer software, which uses a
complex system of information that analyzes the pattern of
transactions, including dollar amount, time of day, day of week, and
types of merchants and countries.
Sometimes large purchases,
such as buying an expensive piece of jewelry in a foreign country,
will raise a red flag. Recently, this was the case for me after
purchasing an emerald stone in Cartegena, Colombia. Again, the bank
called my home to make sure I was the one using the card.
Thankfully, a family member was there to let them know that I was
indeed in Colombia, thus preventing my card from being put on hold
Passport for your card
Do you need a
visa for your Visa? Maybe. A stamp of approval in advance will make
charging much easier. If you are planning to travel to far-flung
destinations, here are some tips to make sure your credit card keeps
Keep in mind that these tips arenít a guarantee
to prevent your card from getting shut down. Always carry a second
credit card just in case.
- Call your credit card company or bank that issues your card
and inform them of specific destinations and times regarding your
travels. This goes for ATM cards as well.
- All major credit card companies have special toll-free numbers
that can be called from overseas, but make sure you get them
before leaving. Regular 800 numbers donít work outside the U.S.
that under federal law, you arenít responsible for unauthorized
charges over $50. However, you must report the card stolen or lost
immediately to be covered. If unauthorized charges do occur, you
will need to document them in writing to the credit card company.
Not all credit cards are created equal, so check with your card
company for its policies.
Keep in mind that debit cards pose
unique problems because payments are directly deducted from your
checking account. As always, it pays to know before you go so that
your travels are hassle free.
Visit the Federal Trade Commissionís website
for details on your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
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