Why You Need Two Credit Cards When You Travel

Photo (cc) by lrargerich

I was traveling in the United Kingdom when a credit card issuer emailed me about potentially fraudulent activity. My immediate thought was that the company had simply forgotten I was traveling, even though I’d notified them.

Nope. Somebody had gotten hold of my number and used it twice. Guess where.

In a Walmart. In Florida.

You’d think people would want to do something cooler than that. Designer clothing, maybe, or at least some of those M&Ms with your photograph on them.

But no, Walmart it was, for $90 each time. The odd thing is that the transactions were physical transactions, according to the card fraud department. So whoever got my number must also have one of those card-making machines.

Long-distance rigamarole

Initially, I wondered if the email was one of those phishing scams, particularly since the phone number given didn’t match the one on the back of my card. Later, I learned this particular branch of customer service has numerous offices. Credit card fraud is a growth industry.

What made the email look even more suspicious was the fact that when I clicked on the link provided, the first thing I was asked to do was enter my credit card number and my Social Security number.

I used a calling card to contact the credit card company, and a customer service agent confirmed the fraudulent charges. She asked a few questions, canceled the card, and told me a new card and a fraud report would be sent out.

I wish I’d remembered to ask her why a customer would be expected to provide credit card and Social Security numbers via return email. Even though this was a legitimate case, asking for such info electronically just sounds wrong.

Luckily, I had backup

Once more, with feeling: You need more than one payment method while traveling.

Had I been relying on a single credit (or debit) card, I’d have been up the creek and paddle-free. Maybe reduced to busking for change in the Underground. People might pay me to stop singing, but I doubt it would be enough to fund the last 10 days of the journey, no matter how cheaply I ate.

Consider programming customer-service numbers (but not the credit card numbers!) into your cell phone as well. And hey, all you cash-only purists: Stash your money in more than one wallet or pocket, in the event you’re robbed. I kept seeing “Pickpockets are known to work in this area” signs all over London – even in a KFC restaurant. How would you pay for your biscuits-and-extra-crispy if your only cash or your debit card got lifted?

Keep your payment methods close – and keep them multiple.

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