Credit Card Threats While Traveling

Today there are a lot of different tech threats that travelers have to worry about. Often times, the threat is to your credit card. Travelers encounter all kinds of credit card theft and there is no shortage of new methods being used. Here are a handful of new and old tricks being used to gather your information and ways you can protect yourself.

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Card Readers

Processing cards has never been easier. Unfortunately, that holds true for legitimate businesses and criminals alike. This new trick requires a mobile payment processing terminal (as seen in the picture) and the target to be carrying a card with an RFID tag. These credit cards can process transactions without swiping the magnetic strip. The credit card thief exploits this by punching an amount into their credit card processing terminal then hovering the device over other people’s pockets in a crowded area. This works particularly good at conventions or on public transportation. The scammer and the mark never even need to make physical contact and you won’t know what happened until after the scammer is long gone.

How to Protect Yourself

This one is one of the easiest attacks to protect yourself against. All you need is an RFID blocking sleeve for your credit cards. You can get them from Amazon for next to nothing and they generally come with Passport RFID tag protectors too! (Most passports contain an RFID chip that would allow someone to scan your information, this would prevent that.)


Card Skimmers

Scammers looking to get many credit cards in one heist use card skimmers. Skimmers attach over legitimate credit card processing terminals then copy and store the information from every card that passes through them. Again, the mark is unaware anything is happening since the transaction will process as normal. Often times these are attached in conjunction with a small camera to catch any pin numbers that might be needed. They are generally placed on easily accessible credit card readers like the ones you see at gas stations, ATMs, vending machines, and other kiosks.

How to Protect Yourself

The best defense here is to familiarize yourself with the card readers you frequently visit. This is harder when traveling so if you have to use an unfamiliar credit card terminal tug and wiggle the slot where you insert your card. These skimmers are meant to be removable unlike genuine credit card terminals. If you do find yourself with a skimmer in your hand, don’t take it with you. Sometimes the scammer is watching the terminals. The best thing you can do it call the police.


Unsecured Wifi

Unsecured wifi paired with http site logins can be dangerous. People on the same network as you can share files and view some of your activity. If you’re visiting http sites then they can see every page you’re visiting. This is why any sites that deal with financial information require the domain to be https. If you’re visiting https sites then anyone viewing your browsing habits would only see domains, not the specific pages. Unprotected wifi has become more of a threat as people use their phones and tablets for more important tasks such as checking email, financial accounts, and pay bills on the go. Your phone is just a small computer. All the same caution that you would use connecting your PC to a open network should be used with your phone.

How to Protect Yourself

It’s best not to connect to public wifi networks, but Free Wifi signs are appealing when you want to quickly check things. Generally, you should be okay as long as you avoid any logins on a public network. For accounts that offer 2 step verification, turn that on! It can be a hassle, but having your email account compromised is worse, trust me.


Restaurant Shell Game

This is more specific to the United States than any of the previous scams. If you didn’t know, in the United States, most times you go to a sit-down restaurant the waiter will bring you your check in a sleeve. You place your card in the sleeve, they take the sleeve and your card away from the table and return later with a final receipt for you to sign and leave your tip. In that time, some nefarious wait staff have been known to skim your credit card information. This is even more common at bars where you entrust your card with the bartender to open a tab.

How to Protect Yourself

Your best defense here is you. There is no polite way around this situation in the United States, but there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your card will be stolen. For starters, familiarize yourself with your waiter’s name. Refer to them by name at least once to give the impression you would remember them if they tried to take your information. Aside from that, don’t let your card be out of your sight longer than needed. When people have their cards stolen at bars it’s often because they left the bar that night without closing their tab. It gives even a small time crook the chance to easily swipe your information at closing.


Through this post I know I referred to credit cards specifically, but these same tricks can be used on debit cards. In fact, it’s more important to protect your debit card than your credit card. A credit card has buyer protection where as a debit card does not. Fraudulent purchases made on a credit card are instantly credited back to your card, but if they are made on a debt card that money isn’t credited back to you until the financial institution has completed their investigation. That can take weeks or months! So if you’re traveling with a debt card, STOP!







  1. world cup fan

    Nice blog here! Also your website loads up very
    fast! What host are you using? Can I get your
    affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours

    1. Sarah

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy it. As for the host, I have been using 1&1 for a few years now and I’m pretty happy with them. 🙂

    2. Lucy

      Great info, thanks for sharing. I am super paranoid about travel as it is, now I have one more thing to worry about!

  2. Samantha

    These are great tips! I had my credit card number stollen on a trip once and it was complete hell to get it turned back on. I would also recommend traveling with a couple cards (just in case!)

    1. Sarah

      You’re absolutely right. I try to bring a few cards for that very reason.

  3. traveling geek

    I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent comparing credit cards for travel. You really do need a good one with customer service you can depend on if you’re going to travel for a long time or far away. Thanks for the tips though. I didn’t know about those protector sleeves.

  4. Fredrick

    I got hit with one of these last summer. Real pisser. Learn from my mistakes folks!

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