3 1/2 MINUTE READ
Protecting your identity and your finances overseas is easy if you have the right information.
Pickpockets and theft are everyday occurrences everywhere. Awareness and preparation are the keys to securing and protecting yourself.
Throughout Europe, there are groups of people who work together to steal your stuff. Setting your phone on the table at the cafe draws attention. There is one scam where someone will come over to ask for help. It is usually with a map, which they hover over your phone. While you are distracted by the map, they use another hand to take the phone. On the metro, a group of young girls will seem to need help or act annoying. It is all to distract you from the one slipping their hand into your bag.
The theft can occur in many different shapes and sizes, as Mark with Wolters World discusses in this video, "13 Ways How Pickpockets Rob You!"
Theft can also occur without anyone touching you. Most of your credit cards, phones, passports, driver's licenses, etc. give off radio signals, known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identifiers). RFID chips may include your personal information, as well as, financial data. These chips make contactless payment possible.
Thieves can use a device in their pocket to "sniff" out these signals and remotely steal your information. What information can they take from your cards and passports? There is a lot of confusion about this in the media. Walt Augustinowicz, Founder, and CEO of Identity Stronghold dispells some of the myths about electronic pickpocketing in this video:
The best way to combat electronic theft for your passport and credit cards is to use products made with RFID (Radio Frequency Identifiers) blockers. Products that contain RFID blockers promote this feature on their products and usually add an icon to the product image.
I've used products by Identity Stronghold for about a decade. I know they work because I need to take out my metro card and credit cards anytime I want to use them. They carry a wide selection of styles, so you do not need to put function over fashion.
- Men's Wallets & Money Clips: https://amzn.to/2KS99pE
- Women's Wallets: https://amzn.to/2MFpujk
- Mini Wallets: https://amzn.to/2OArQAI
- Passport Holders: https://amzn.to/2KQazRG
- RFID Sleeves: https://amzn.to/2KQhxpL
Many countries require visitors to carry their passport with them at all times. You want to be able to quickly access your cards or cash without drawing too much attention. Sometimes it makes sense to use several RFID blocking wallets rather than one big wallet while traveling overseas.
If you are traveling to Europe, you should understand the difference between American and European credit cards.
In the EU they use EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa) as their standard for the chips seen on credit cards. European EMV cards are chip-and-PIN, which requires a PIN to complete a transaction. This PIN is different from debit card PINs that we use in America. They function similarly; however, American chip cards use chip-and-signature, requiring a signature to finalize the transaction.
American cards with a chip will work in most instances in Europe. They will not work at machines like those found in train stations, gas stations, and any other self-service kiosk. Europe has also been upgrading their point-of-sale devices, some of which will not process American chip-and-signature cards. Most American cards work in ATMs.
As of April 2018, the four major American credit companies stopped requiring a signature to complete a purchase.
"Before my first trip to Europe, I ordered a new card from my bank to have the chip. After I landed at CDG, I attempted to buy a metro ticket at one of their machines. The line grew as I tried over and over to use my card. I had brought Euros with me, but the machine didn't accept bills. I waited near the ticket counter for about 30 minutes before someone arrived to sell me a ticket. When I called my bank, they told me my card was a chip-and-signature card. They had failed to mention this detail when I called to order the card. I now travel with the card L&G recommended. It works everywhere I've needed a card in Europe."
DECLINE the bank's conversion offer because 99% of the time it is MUCH higher than your bank's rate. You'll want to confirm your bank's exchange rate, before departure.
Recently, I took 320 Euros ($384) out of an ATM. That bank wanted to add $40 in exchange and fees. My bank charged me $14.99. That's a $25 difference.
How Else to Protect Yourself?
When I travel, I use a prepaid travel card. If someone steals my card, I do not worry too much. The card isn't attached to my bank account, the balance can transfer to my backup prepaid card, or if needed send me emergency cash. My finances are secure no matter what happens to my wallet.