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Credit Card Theft 2017: How to Prevent Fraud When You’re a Frequent Traveler

February 11th, 2017 /

Traveling all over the United States for speaking engagements and sales meetings leaves me with a lot of time to ponder the difficult questions of modern existence. Why are we here? What is my purpose? Is my credit card secure?

All jokes aside, identity theft is actually something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. As a frequent business traveler, there are an infinite number of ways for a thief to steal my wallet, my phone, or to get online access to my account info. Banks have a hard time catching fraudulent charges when you’re in a new location each week—especially when the small expenses you incur on business trips are just the kind of thing criminals can hide behind

You’re probably well-versed in keeping your personal effects safe, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider additional measures that could help you secure your mobile, online, and in-person transactions.

Understanding Current Identity Theft Risks

Credit card fraud has shifted online now that chip-encrypted plastic is harder to forge. And because cybercrime is evolving to keep pace with new technology, it can be hard to keep track of what you’re supposed to be doing to protect yourself.

But the flip side is that it’s also easier than ever to take matters into your own hands. I’d suggest monitoring your expenses at least weekly, if possible. A budgeting app like Mint or EveryDollar is a good way of keeping track of everything you spend (and everywhere you’ve been). A thief may hold onto your account info for months before using it on small transactions, so this is a good way of making sure that that five dollar purchase in Indianapolis was actually your doing.

preventing fraud if you're a frequent traveler can feel like a struggle

Use mobile pay apps when you can to add an extra layer of protection against fraud. Image by Flickr user Jason Howie (CC BY 2.0)

Securing Your Mobile Wallet

When it comes to losing phones, there seem to be two kinds of people. I’m pretty much scot-free. My wife, however, manages to lose hers at least a couple of times a year. The first step, in this case, is obviously to make use of remote-lock and “find my phone” services.

Many companies also require stringent security and encryption protocol on devices linked to your work email account, but it’s a good idea to have your own security measures in place. Make sure you’ve got a six-digit passcode on the phone itself—but also on any individual files that are sensitive. If you’re handling seriously confidential documents, you should also consider enabling data encryption in your smartphone settings. This may slow down what you’re doing, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind.

There’s currently a lot of concern surrounding the security of mobile pay options, but I actually use Apple Pay whenever I can. My enthusiasm doesn’t seem widespread among business travelers yet, but mobile wallets may actually be more secure than a painfully slow EMV card. According to the senior director for Android Pay, mobile payment “dramatically decreases opportunities for fraud.”

Why? Encryption and tokenization, which ensure that each of your mobile transactions uses an essentially meaningless sequence code instead of your actual credit card details. The data changes with every transaction and would be totally useless even if a thief was able to intercept it. Because each transaction requires a fingerprint scan or a pin code, you also have another layer of protection if your phone gets broken into. If you’re concerned about carrying your cards around, a mobile wallet may actually be the best solution.

some mobile pay options are actually surprisingly secure

Public wifi may be free, but it’s not your friend when it comes to keeping your accounts secure. Image by Flickr user Yahoo (CC BY 2.0)

Secure Your Devices when on Hotel or Public Wifi

Here’s the thing about free wifi—you could very easily be logging into your bank account on a thief’s fake router, which is intercepting every keystroke you make. Unsecured coffee shop, hotel, and airport wifi networks are not an ideal spot to do mobile banking or shopping.

But if you absolutely must access your bank account while on an unsecured network, be sure to use the actual bank app instead of a browser window. A vetted app from your financial institution is unlikely to carry malware and will have additional layers of encryption to keep thieves at bay.

Security experts advise you to not to even log onto social media or your personal email account when on public wifi (although for most of us, it’s far too late). Basically, you should avoid typing in your username and password for any account while on a public network. It’s safer (and probably faster) to use 4G.

If someone does make off with your credit information, know what to do next. Image by Flickr user Tim McLaren (CC BY 2.0)

Minimize the Damage

Even if you never click a suspicious link, refrain from shopping amazon on the train, and have a chain on your wallet, you could still find yourself a victim of Card Not Present (aka online) fraud. When you notice fraudulent charges, speak with your credit company immediately. And after you make that call, you’ll probably want to adhere to the following advice from the US Department of Justice:

  • Place a fraud alert at Experian.com/fraudalert or by calling 1-888-397-3742
  • Get a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com and examine for suspicious charges
  • Report your identity theft to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338

Business travelers are easy targets for thieves. We’re frequently in new environments, and it’s hard to remember whether or not you spent three dollars for a Coke in Chicago last Tuesday. So it’s important to keep tabs on all of your accounts, use mobile pay when you can, and react swiftly if something seems amiss.

As hotels become more advanced, with frictionless technology, I’m also hopeful that additional security measures will be put in place to keep travelers’ data secure no matter where they’re staying. If you’re traveling often, you’ll also want to stay in hotel rooms that are physically secure, with excellent staff on hand to assist in case of an emergency. So, as always, I’d suggest a membership with JetLux Hotels, which will give you access to corporate rates at the best hotels in the country.

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