Fraud Alert: Travel Scams
Traveling creates a disruption to your normal patterns. You might find yourself overly relaxed or overly frazzled – and either state can cause you to be overly distracted. Unfortunately that can lead to travel fraud since scammers tend to prey on those who have let their guard down.
Fortunately you can protect yourself from being a victim of fraud while traveling. Here are some tips you should bring along every time you travel.
Types of Travel Fraud
Travel scam 1: Card theft
What it looks like: You get pickpocketed by a wily thief who bumps you on a crowded street. Or you fall victim when you leave your wallet unattended near your lounge chair while you take a dip.
How to avoid it: Keep your wallet and other valuables in an inside pocket when you are on the street or riding public transportation. And never leave your items unattended, even at the poshest resort. Most thieves view this type of travel fraud as a crime of opportunity and will look for the next mark.
Travel scam 2: Card skimming and shimming
What it looks like: Card skimming happens when fraudster attaches a device to a credit card reader to obtain the personal information on a card's magnetic strip. “Shimming" is an updated maneuver that targets your card's chip. The thief will install a “shim" in the card reader, which collects your chip's data when you insert it. While your card is being processed, the shim is capturing data from your card. The scammer can then use this data to eventually make a new card — and make fraudulent transactions that will appear on your account.
How to avoid it: Take a moment to investigate the card reader before you use it. A card skimming machine is typically bulky and therefore relatively easy to identify. (This PCMag article shows you how.1) It's not as easy to detect a card shim. However, one telltale sign could be that your card doesn't slide in smoothly. Often these types of scams take place at a gas pump or a free-standing ATM that's not monitored.2 Your best bet might be to use a contactless payment method.
Travel Scam 3: Peer-to-peer payments
What it looks like: Peer-to-peer (P2P) payment scams take many forms, but it typically entails someone you don't know offering to pay you via the app. They might claim they've lost their wallet and ask you to cover their taxi or meal, and send you the money while you're standing there. Even though it may look like it arrived, days later you'll find out their bank account was empty and you are out the funds.
How to avoid it: Never conduct business on a P2P app with someone you don't know personally. While you may want to be a friendly traveler and lend a hand (or a dollar), there is no recourse for lost money with a P2P app.
Most thieves view travel fraud as a crime of opportunity and will look for the next mark – unless your behavior makes you too appealing to pass up.
How Banks Detect Travel Fraud
Banks are your ally in detecting fraud while traveling. For example, sometimes when you travel, you might find your card declined even though there's nothing wrong. That's because your bank detects spending patterns that differ from your norm. If you typically use your card in Boston, the bank might suspect suspicious activity if it's being used in Barcelona. Of course, that's for your safety, which is why it's wise to notify your bank when you intend to be traveling (more on that below).
However, often just being in another city won't trigger a bank alert, especially if you had previously charged airfare on the card. Instead, your bank will notice discrepancies in usage that could indicate a card has been compromised, such as when transactions in different parts of the country (or in different countries) appear close together in time.
How to Protect Yourself From Travel Fraud
The last thing you want to do on a trip is devote precious time to sorting out theft or transferring additional money. Here are steps you can take to protect yourself before, during, and after the trip to safeguard your funds.
Before the trip
- Downsize your wallet to minimize the number of cards you carry. Try to consolidate all your activity to one or two cards, which means you have less to manage, both physically and logistically.
- Make copies of the front and back of your card(s) so you can immediately call your bank if your card is lost or stolen. You should keep them in your hotel room (or in a different bag if you're on the road) so they don't get stolen if your wallet gets stolen.
- Call Synovus to notify them of your travel plans so they won't be surprised when your card is used in a different location. Here is a list of all the numbers to use to contact Synovus. Print them out and keep them with you when you travel, just in case you need them.
During the trip
- Be vigilant while traveling. Thieves look for distracted victims who make it easy for them to carry out their travel scams.
- Make purchases on your credit card rather than carrying cash.
- Keep your credit card and other valuables in a safe place and never leave them unattended.
- Don't use an ATM in an unfamiliar place, especially at night.
- If you travel by air, purchase something in the airport when you land so the bank has a record of where you are.
- Remember, Synovus will never call, email or text you to ask for your personal information without you initiating an issue. If you receive a call or text message from someone claiming to be from Synovus, especially if you weren't expecting it, immediately call 1-888- SYNOVUS.
When you return home
- Double-check that you still have all your cards.
- Log into your mobile app and check all the charges to confirm they are actually yours. If you see anything questionable, call the bank right away to sort it out.
- Find any wayward receipts that might be stashed in pockets or bags and shred them to keep your personal information private.
Traveling can open you up to new experiences, but don't let a travel scam be one of them. By taking some simple precautions and being attentive while you travel, you'll likely avoid one of travel's only downsides: travel fraud. (Unfortunately avoiding a sunburn is all on you.)
Want more information about safeguarding your credit cards? Read about common types of credit card fraud and how to protect yourself here.
Important disclosure information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
- Eddy, Max, “How to Spot and Avoid Credit Card Skimmers and Shimmers," PC Magazine, published March 2, 2021, accessed November 10, 2021. Back
- FBI.gov, "Scams and Safety," accessed November 11, 2021 Back
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