Two years ago my husband and I were on holiday in the resort town of Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula when my bank card stopped working.
My husband's debit card – same bank, different account – functioned just fine. But when I inserted mine into the ATM, I was repeatedly denied access. I tried several bank machines – to no avail. I had been cut off.
Since I had my credit card and my husband, my situation was not dire and we had no problems paying for our margaritas. Other Canadians – those travelling alone or others who have actually lost their cards – have found themselves in a frustrating position of being in a foreign country and not being able to access cash when they need it.
Andrew Addison, a spokesman for the Canadian Bankers Association, says bank and card companies will sometimes put a hold on a card if they see an irregularity in patterns of usage.
"When there is a deviation from the pattern – that can alert them that maybe the card has been stolen," he says.
Mr. Addison suggests that anyone planning a vacation call their credit card and bank companies to let them know where and when they will be travelling.
Another key piece of advice is to write down your card numbers, as well as the necessary phone numbers, and store them somewhere safe, he says. That way if your wallet or purse is stolen, you can quickly call your bank, put a hold on your cards and get replacements.
The CBA, an advocacy group for Canadian banks, has these tips to help summer travellers protect themselves from fraud:
- Always protect your PIN (personal identification number) when you enter it at an ATM or for debit or credit card purchases by covering the PIN pad with your free hand.
- Treat your debit and credit cards like cash and protect them in the same way. Always keep your cards and identification with you or lock them in a secure hotel safe. Don't leave them behind in the hotel room or leave them in the car.
- Only bring the cards and personal identification that you'll need with you for your trip and leave the rest at home.
- If you have a chip card, insert the chip first, rather than swipe it. If the point-of-sale device is not chip-capable, it will prompt you to swipe your card. Avoiding any unnecessary swipe of the card will reduce the potential of the card information being skimmed.
- Don't take a vacation from checking your accounts online. If you have your own laptop, a smart phone or access to a trusted computer, check your bank and credit card transactions and make sure that they match your actual purchases. If there are transactions that you didn't make, contact your financial institution and report it as soon as possible.
- If you want to check your bank or credit card information online while you're away and don't have your own computer with you, it is wise to avoid public computers. Consider telephone or mobile banking instead. If you must use a public computer, be sure to clear the cache memory and delete the cookies in the Internet browser before you log off. This will ensure that your account numbers and passwords do not remain accessible to others.
- Remember to take your card when the transaction is complete. Some ATMs will pull the card back into the machine if the customer does not take it back within a certain amount of time. This keeps the card from ending up in a criminal's hands, but depending on where you are, the time and the day of the week, it may be hard to get your card back or a replacement.