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Travel Protection

Ten tips to protect your wallet while on vacation.

Vacations are supposed to be about taking a break from the daily grind for some rest and relaxation. The last thing you want while on holiday is the stress of dealing with travel fraud. Yet your risk of exposure to financial fraud and identity theft may actually increase, as people often tend to let their guard down while away. Don't let your dream trip turn into a nightmare.

1. Notify your credit card company and financial institution (FI) about your plans.

Most organizations have enhanced fraud detection systems, which occasionally may result in disabling your account pending verification of "suspicious" transactions. If you're traveling and can't verify the charges, you could end up with a frozen account and the hassle of not being able to use your credit card. Avoid the hassle by notifying your financial institution of your travel plans before you head away on holidays.

2. Don't automatically return phone calls that claim to be from us.

If you receive a phone call or e-mail about suspicious activity on your card, don't automatically call back the number on the message. This could be a ploy by identity thieves to capture personal information. Instead, call the customer service number on the back of your credit card. If the call is legitimate, your credit card issuer will be able to connect you to the appropriate department. Alternatively, you could keep a list of contact numbers for your credit card company and FI with you, so you can reach them easily if your wallet is stolen or you have any trouble with your account.

3. Secure your mail while you're gone.

Your mail can be a jackpot of information for criminals – it may contain your credit card numbers and other personal information that can lead to identify theft. If you're going on holidays for an extended period of time, have a trusted neighbor or friend pick up your mail every day or stop your mail at the post office.

4. Avoid social media announcements.

While it can be tempting to tweet about your exotic locations or post travel updates on your Facebook page, this isn't a good idea. Cyber criminals are masters of connecting the dots to determine your whereabouts and using it to their advantage. Never announce the dates of your travel – that's like issuing an open invitation to thieves.

5. Clean out your wallet before you leave.

Popular tourist destinations are often a haven for pickpockets, so make sure you go through your wallet and take out any unneeded credit cards and personal information before you leave. Don't carry your Social Insurance Number in your wallet and take only the credit cards that you know will be needed. Another smart move is to make copies of all important documents, such as your passport, driver's license, care card, travel insurance policies, tickets and hotel information. Leave the copies with a trusted family member so you'll have convenient access to this vital information if necessary.

6. Be wary of generic ATMs and hotel computers.

Generic ATMs can be a hot bed of skimming activity. This occurs when thieves install a card reader in an ATM to capture your account information and PIN, so they can later steal from your account. Be sure to examine ATM machines carefully for signs of tampering. Whenever possible, stick to ATMs at branches of financial institution, as these are typically inspected often for card readers, and provide a greater level of security. Also, remember to always protect your PIN when using any ATM or debit device.

7. Check your accounts regularly for suspicious activity.

If you have secure online access while on vacation, it's a good idea to regularly check your banking and credit card accounts to verify that every transaction is yours. However, don't access your banking or personal information on public hotel computers, which could have software that logs keystrokes and records your passwords and account numbers – and be very careful when using an unsecured wireless network.

8. Lock down your personal information.

Don't leave personal information lying around in your hotel room. Keep your credit cards and other important information with you or lock them up in the hotel safe. Also, remember to safeguard your laptop or smart phone if it contains account information. Try to minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry.

9. Be wary paying bills.

When shopping or dining keep a close eye on your credit card when you pay your bill. If your server removes your card from sight they may be able to create a duplicate by using a portable card skimmer that will copy the information from the card's magnetic strip.

10. Your biggest defense against theft and fraud is to be informed.

If you do become a victim of theft or fraud on vacation, time is crucial. The quicker you inform your financial institution and credit card company, the faster you can prevent further unauthorized charges. Before you leave, talk to a representative of your financial institution to find out what the best contingency plans are for you to obtain a new source of payment.

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