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Travelers: Protect credit cards and bank account from scams

Consumer Reports News: May 30, 2013 12:08 PM

The travel season is officially here, which means more of us will be using credit, debit and ATM cards on the road. That means it's also the official start of the travel scam season.

For instance, using a debit card at an unfamiliar ATM could subject you to "skimming": Crooks use a cleverly concealed spy camera to record your secret PIN code, then drain your checking account. To protect yourself, don't use a machine that has an extra mirror or a surface that looks suspicious; it could be a false front. Alert the branch's manager; after hours report it to the bank by phone.

Even if the ATM looks legitimate, cover your hand when entering your PIN. Remember to take paper receipts, and make sure your session has ended before you walk away. Our sister Web site, Consumerist, shows a rogue's gallery of ATMs doctored for use by skimmers.

Nearly 20 million credit-card fraud victims

Recently, more than 3,000 adult Internet users in the U.S. told the Consumer Reports National Research Center about problems they'd experienced with online financial security during the previous 12 months. (Numbers are projected from results of our nationally representative annual State of the Net Survey, fielded in January 2013.) The prevention steps mentioned here are just as useful when traveling.

Unauthorized charges
Our survey found, for instance, that 19.5 million consumers had charges placed on an existing credit card by an unauthorized person.
Protect yourself: Report fraudulent charges immediately. If credit was used instead of debit on a bank card, you're probably liable for up to only $50. (That limit doesn't apply to debit charges.)

Lost, hijacked, stolen
Companies, government agencies, or other organizations notified 18.4 million consumers that their personal info had been lost, hijacked, or stolen.
Protect yourself: If notified of a data breach, use the free credit monitoring that's usually offered. Add a fraud alert to your credit reports. Close affected accounts and change passwords on others. Check for incorrect charges or withdrawals after the breach.

Personal data compromised
Ten million consumers lost money from an account (other than credit card), had personal data used for a fraudulent purpose, or had a new credit account opened in their name by an unauthorized person.
Protect yourself: Don't click on links or open attachments in e-mail purporting to be from government agencies. Have your bank alert you to possible fraudulent activity.

Check our guides to protecting yourself online and avoiding overpriced ID theft protection services.

Tobie Stanger

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