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Advice & More August 2013

Dollar Sense

Safeguard Your Money When You Travel

By Teresa Ambord

 When you do use an ATM, any ATM, don’t key in your PIN with your fingers. Use a key, a coin, a card, anything but your hands. Even from down the street a thief can capture your PIN by pointing a device in your direction that reads what you key in using the heat in your fingertips

Nothing says “easy mark” like an obvious tourist. Thieves know when you travel you are focused on fun, relaxation, and sightseeing, not expecting to be targeted. Which of course makes you irresistible.

Security experts say protecting your assets while traveling begins before you leave home. Here are tips to enhance your security before and during your trip.


What to Do and Not Do Before You Leave Home

Don’t announce to the world via Facebook (or some other social site) that you are leaving for Cancun for 10 days. Forget the illusion of anonymity when you’re on Facebook. Thieves make full-time work of combing through these sites, piecing together information they can use to crack your passwords, break into your accounts, and drain your assets. Part of what they are looking for is information, like when your house is likely to be vacant.

But it’s not just tech-savvy thieves who are watching. Old-fashioned house burglars are also tuned in, so don’t give your home the appearance of vacancy. Stop your newspaper and have a trusted friend pick up your mail. A bulging mailbox is as good as an invitation to come on in and take whatever they want.

Make copies of your plane tickets, hotel reservations, passport, driver’s license, and credit cards. Leave this packet of information with someone you trust, in case you lose these things and need to call for information.


Pre-Travel Steps to Guard Your Money

* Clean out your wallet and leave most of your credit cards at home. Take two with you in case you lose one. But whenever possible leave one in the hotel safe so you aren’t at risk of losing both.

  • Leave your checks and your debit card at home. Your debit card has the power to throw open your entire bank balance to thieves.
  • Definitely don’t carry your Social Security card. If your health card has your Social Security number (SSN) on it, make a copy of it to carry in your wallet, but obliterate or cut out the SSN except for the last four digits.
  • While you are cleaning out your wallet, don’t forget to take your driver’s license with you, even if you won’t be driving. You’ll need the ID.
  • Call your credit card companies and talk to the fraud department to let them know when and where you will be traveling. Having this information on file could stop a thief cold. Ask for a phone number to contact them directly from outside the United States if necessary. I do this before traveling, and it takes only minutes. I’ve found the customer service personnel to be very knowledgeable and efficient, and I was left with an added sense of security.
  • Freeze your credit. This prevents thieves from opening credit in your name, but still allows you to use your cards. I use this security measure myself. I set up my credit freezes online and it took only minutes. If you are 65 and up it should cost you a total of $15 (that’s $5 for each of three credit bureaus). If you’re under 65, it should cost a total of $30 (or $10 each). If you have been a victim of ID theft and you filed a police report, a credit freeze should be free. To set up a freeze, contact each of the three credit bureaus:

Equifax (, 800-685-1111),

Experian (, 888-397-3742) and

TransUnion (, 877-322-8228).

  • *Do you carry a Smartphone? Learn the safety settings that will lock your screen with a password. Your wireless carrier can tell you about security apps. While you are checking, ask if there is a service which will erase the data on your phone remotely if you lose it. Consider installing a GPS location tracking app.


While You are Away Beware of…

ATMs that are stand-alone. It’s best to use an ATM at a bank, whether you are at home or away. Stand-alone ATMs can be rigged by thieves to capture your information before you realize it. The more remote the ATM the better a target it is for thieves. Even if the machine gives you the cash you request, that doesn’t mean it has not been hijacked.

When you do use an ATM, any ATM, don’t key in your PIN with your fingers. Use a key, a coin, a card, anything but your hands. Even from down the street a thief can capture your PIN by pointing a device in your direction that reads what you key in using the heat in your fingertips.

Leaving valuables in your room. Don’t think you can outsmart thieves with clever hiding places. If you cannot lock up your valuables in a hotel safe, take them with you when you are out of the room. If you plan to leave your laptop in your room, check with your computer store before you go. Ask for a device that locks your computer to something in the room, like a heavy piece of furniture. Office supply stores sell several varieties for under $60… however, before you buy one read the customer reviews. Some of these locks have proven to be disappointing.

Wi-fi. It’s nice to get wi-fi when you’re away from home, but be very selective when it comes to entering information on hotel computers or free wi-fi. Don’t access personal accounts like banks and credit cards on these networks, which are often a feast for thieves. If you really need to check these accounts use the telephone.

Document thieves. If you are flying, keep your passport and other ID on your body. Thieves are adept at appearing innocent as they rifle through overhead baggage for such items.

[This article was based in part on information from Jim Miller, author of “Savvy Senior.”]


Get a Better Wallet

Never underestimate how low thieves will stoop to steal your assets or how clever they are. After all, they make full time work of taking what isn’t theirs. They can easily buy devices no bigger than a man’s wallet, which collect information off of certain debit or credit cards.

Unlike actual pickpockets, all these thieves have to do is wave the device near your back pocket or your purse, and your financial security could be lost. The credit and debit cards that present this possibility are those which contain an RFID chip (radio frequency identification), and have a symbol on the back that say “pay wave,” “pay pass,” “blink,” or have a symbol resembling a radio wave. As your cards are replaced over time, it is very likely all of them will include this tiny device.

What can you do? Experts suggest taking one of these actions. Purchase an RFID wallet (about $10 at Walmart) or paper sleeves you can slip your cards into to thwart theft ( has these and other security products). You can also simply wrap your card in a piece of aluminum foil, which does the same but can be awkward. Or carry more than one such debit or credit card with an RFID chip. This causes your personal information to be jumbled and useless.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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