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Taking Care of Your Debit and Credit Cards On Holiday

When heading off on your summer holidays, chances are you'll take your little plastic friends to help ease the burden. More and more of us are forsaking travellers cheques in favour of the foreign 'hole in the wall'.

But if you are not careful, you might find your credit cards helping someone else buy new designer clothes, dine in expensive restaurants or even just buy a few mobile phone top-up cards.

Overseas credit card fraud cost £25 million in 2001. Surprisingly, people going to the USA should be most on their guard, as 19% of overseas fraud on UK cards happened there. France was the second, accounting for 17% of card crime abroad, followed by Spain at 16%.

Unfortunately, UK cards are prime targets for thieves overseas because of the poor security associated with our cards - we only have to sign the till slip and how often is your signature checked? When travelling to mainland Europe, the US and Australasia, you may have noticed the locals key in a PIN number when using their cards - without the PIN number, the card is of no use to a thief.

So, what can we do? Here are a few suggestions on how to help ensure that you don't become a victim of card crime, which could ruin your holiday.

Before your go, remove all the credit, bank and store cards that you are not going to need from your wallet or purse. We suggest you take one debit or bank card (to access ATMs) and perhaps two credit cards, choosing those with sufficient available credit to cover you whilst away. Hide the cards you are not taking somewhere very safe (safe, attic or cellar?) or leave them with a trusted family member or friend. (In the biscuit tin or under the mattress are among the first places burglars will look!)

Memorise your PIN numbers. Avoid the temptation to write them down, even disguised as birthdays, phone numbers, etc. If you lose your cards and the PIN numbers were written down, your card issuer could decide to hold you liable for all the losses (not just the £50 limit), especially if there are ATM withdrawals. Your card issuer will know whether the PIN was used, so you won't be able to bluff them that it wasn't written down!

Be as vigilant with your cards on holiday as you would be at home. Unfortunately, when we go on holiday, many of us are not nearly as careful as we should be. Would you leave your purse or wallet in a bag on the beach whilst swimming at home? Be honest, have you ever done it while you're on holiday?

It doesn't pay to advertise you have money and credit cards as thieves target the unwary and they especially like Gold and Platinum cards since they usually have much higher credit limits.

When paying, try to keep your card in sight after you've handed it across to the assistant. You should have no problems at major outlets, but in smaller outlets and restaurants especially, be more careful. It takes less than 1 second to run your card through a skimming machine and copy your card details. Be wary if the assistant wants to take your card away 'because the machine is out the back'. If you feel uneasy, ask to accompany him 'so you can sign the slip'. If you encounter any resistance, suspect the worst. Don't take any chances. And if they use carbon paper slips and a 'mistake' is made, ask for all of the copies of the 'ruined' slip and take them with you.

Nobody wants their holiday ruined - we work hard during the rest of the year for our two weeks in the sun. By taking a little care, you can reduce the chance of falling victim to those who see your cards as their meal ticket.


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