How to deal with credit card fraud while traveling

I said it before but I’ll say it again – traveling isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s inevitable to come across countless numbers of problems when you travel. I firmly believe that the longer you travel, the more problems you’ll come across…unless your crazy lucky.

But we have to remember that that’s just life.

It’s what happens in ordinary life so it’s only natural the same thing would happen when you’re traveling.

The only issue is that everything is intensified while you’re abroad.

Everything.

I’m talking about pleasure, fun, excitement…and of course things like sadness, loneliness, frustration and anxiety ~ all the good stuff when you come across problems (especially as a solo traveler, you only have yourself to rely on ~ all your friends and family aren’t so close within proximity and if something goes wrong, it’s much harder to fix).

But as a good friend of mine said to me when I was feeling sad:

Cry as much as you need. Feel everything you do – all the good and the bad. Embrace everything that comes. That’s a part of living. It’s what makes you who you are and it’s what makes you the strong person you are.

Now…I’m not here to go into a long rant about life, love and first-world travel problems. As my title suggests – I’m here to talk about credit card fraud (yeah ok it’s still a first-world problem)…because this particular problem has caused me by far the most grief compared to anything else on this journey. It’s certainly taken a toll on me…but I have definitely learned a lot from it. If you want to go straight to read my advice – click here


31 March 2019, Medellin, Colombia

Right now, I’m sitting in a local shopping center deciding if I should walk back with my heavy bag. In all honesty I’m just a little bit too lazy and it’s raining. At least it’s safe and cozy here (trying to stay positive).

Today has just been one of those shitty days. Some things unexpected happened which brought me into tears…and as soon as I started crying…I couldn’t stop.

 

9 May 2019, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ~ reflections further after the fraud

I definitely expected an adventure coming to South America and part of the package was experiencing credit card fraud (twice). It’s something I was aware and cautious of, but it’s something I didn’t properly anticipate or prepare for.  It hasn’t been fun. Ever since it happened, traveling has just been that extra bit difficult for me. Everything has cost more. Getting money has been harder and it’s been a very testing experience.

 

Rewind: what’s the story?

To simplify things ~ I was subject to credit card fraud (or cloning or skimming ~ whatever you want to call it) two times in Brazil. If you’re not sure what it is ~ it’s basically someone stealing your credit card details and trying to steal money from the credit card account(s). The first time, they took almost $5000 and the second time, they took about $400. The first time they ‘succeeded’ in taking the money but the second time, my bank caught onto the suspicious transaction before it went through (god bless ING – they have a system where all transactions aren’t instant and slowly go through their approval over a few days after the transaction has been made).

Fraud #1 – while I was working in Rio Das Ostras, I checked my credit card account online and noticed that I suddenly owed $5000. I was shocked. When I checked I saw two transactions I didn’t authorise. I called my bank straight away and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the bank. I spent all day writing a report and making a claim and there was no guarantee the bank would reimburse me but 6 weeks later, I no longer owed $5000.

Fraud #2 – while I was in Cabo Frio, I tried using my card a few times but it kept getting declined. It was really strange because I knew I had money on there.  I had absolutely no idea why. After calling my bank, they revealed they put my card on hold because there was a suspicious transaction for $400 which I did not authorise. The stress and anxiety poured in. I had 30 Reals left (AUD$10) and I really wasn’t sure how I was supposed to access my money. There wasn’t a clear way…but luckily, the imaginative consultant offered to take the block off my card for a split second while I took the money out from an ATM. Unfortunately, I wasn’t anywhere close to an ATM at the time…but it was a decent temporary solution.

Things were already complicated but they became even more complicated after the 2nd fraud happened.

I had to organise a replacement card and figure out how to access my money…

Sounds simple enough right?

Well, not so much for me.

Card #1 (Bankwest) wouldn’t offer to post out the card to me (frustrating). They said I had to organise it myself. And the other issue was that I was told that it wasn’t safe to post a credit card to Brazil. So where could I post it to? And who could I trust to receive my card? Who could I contact in Australia to help me post the card?

There were so many issues lurking around. It was like a never-ending puzzle.

At first, I tried calling all my close friends – only one of them picked up (that god damn time difference) and she agreed to organise this for me but then we realised she would be overseas when the card was likely to arrive at her place.

Eventually I resorted to getting my parents to help me…

But who could I send it to? And where?

The only logical place I could think of was my good friend in Barcelona – I trusted him and planned to go to Europe after South America.

Thankfully he agreed to receive my card and my parents agreed to post it by Express Post.

That was card #1 sorted (I still don’t have that card by the way because I’m still in South America)…but to access the card – I got my friend to message me the card details via Whatsapp so I could make a record of it and use it for online purchases, etc. (so I wasn’t just stuck with the one card).

Tip & sidenote: Whatsapp is encrypted so the information is securely protected – only you and the other recipient(s) can see the message. It’s not open to other people to see.

What about card #2 (ING Bank)?

For almost 1 month, I just relied on calling ING every time I needed to use the card or withdraw money from an ATM to temporarily remove and put back on the block on my card. The key issue for me was that I didn’t have an address permanent enough at the time (I was going with the flow and commuting a lot in Colombia). I had to wait until I had a permanent enough address (at least for 3-5 days) before I could send the replacement card…

When I was in Medellin, I stayed with a modest, honest and kind Colombian family for just over a week. While I went to work in Barbosa in an organic farm, my Colombian mum agreed to receive my card for me – FINALLY. I had an address!!!!

I was over the moon!

But when it came to organising it…I didn’t anticipate all the other shit that would come attached to replacing my card. I wish I had the gift of foresight because if I knew all the additional stress getting the replacement card was going to give me, I would have just continued to stick to my long-winded method of taking the block off and putting it back my card on for every transaction.

When I called ING, I asked them to send me the new card and gave them my address in Medellin.What I didn’t anticipate was getting the wrong information and not properly being educated by my bank before making the decision to send a new card out.

Customer service consultant: “Ok, I’ve cancelled your card and will send out the new one to the address. It takes up to 6 weeks to arrive.”

When she told me this – my jaw dropped to the floor and I felt a ball of stress rush straight to my head.

Me: “I was told it would only take 3 days! Can you un-cancel the card?”

Consultant: “Unfortunately once a card is canceled we can’t undo it.”

I was so pissed off. First of all, I was given the wrong information and just I fucked myself over by canceling the card…having no access to my funds at all unless it was an online purchase….and there was NO WAY I was waiting in Medellin for 6 weeks…just for my card to arrive!

Fuck. My. Life.

After going back and forth with the consultant, she eventually realised that whoever told me the card would be delivered in 3 days was referring to an EMERGENCY DEBIT CARD. It had to be organised through Visa directly.  She transferred my call to Visa to organise my replacement card with Visa (it only took about an hour on the phone). But I didn’t anticipate that Visa would be so shit with their administration ~ they misinformed my a number of times and registered my name incorrectly (I had to call them numerous times to fix my name on the card before they delivered it).

On top of all this – the worst part was that emergency cards do not have a chip and you CANNOT use them at ATMS. You MUST and can only go to a physical bank to withdraw money. The card could only be used with card machines at shops and in the physical bank. ATMs are completely off limits. 

Sounds simple enough right?

Nope. Of course not!

Especially in South America.

When I first got my card, I was OVER THE MOON to finally have a functioning card…but I had absolutely no idea that this card would give me so much more of a headache. I could have just basically said goodbye to having access to my money. If you haven’t read my blog about my money problems in La Paz, that’s when everything really started…because I didn’t anticipate for Bolivia to be so undeveloped that all the banks wouldn’t accept my card. It didn’t help that my card was also getting declined by at least 70% of the card machines in shops. This meant that I had to borrow a lot of money from strangers and go hunting for people I could transfer money to. It also meant I had to figure out how to transfer money from one person to another…and I had to eat at restaurants which would accept my card (so much for budget traveling – La Paz restaurants are not that cheap. I definitely blew my budget there frustratingly).


How has this made me feel?

To be brutally honest, it’s made me extremely frustrated and sad – I can’t help but feel like a victim. I’ve tried to stay positive…but it just got to the point where I was roadblocked all the time and had to quickly find an annoying and inconvenient solution (borrowing money from strangers). It’s completely hurt my ego and has made me feel helpless ~ I don’t have financial freedom. I feel trapped and like I have to keep rely on others. I feel like I’m placing a horrible burden on others when it’s really not their problem. It’s killing my ego and self-esteem and making me feel like a huge burden myself. I was so happy to leave Bolivia (hugely because of this reason)…but unsurprisingly, I’m encountering the same problem in Rio de Janeiro (but much less frequently thank god!)

At least I’ve learnt a lot right?

All I can do is hope that anybody who is prone to experiencing this comes across this blog, reads it and is better educated and prepared than I have been for this situation…

Advice: How to deal with credit card fraud overseas

  • Get Skype credit so you can make international calls to your bank for cheaper: trust me, this has saved me a fortune. When I first sorted out my problem, each call was costing me $20. I even had a phone bill for $100. Ever since downloading Skype, each call costs me less than $1 (usually maybe 20 cents). This is the first most important step.
  • Contact your bank straight away: make the claim as soon as possible and sort it out so you can find a solution and prevent more fraud from happening.
  • If you are desperate for money – organise a Western Union transfer. But be aware, Western Union transfers are SUPER EXPENSIVE! I realised after doing this the first time in Brazil – the transfer fee was AUD$22 and I had to wait 2 hours in line in Rio de Janeiro to withdraw the money. After that experience, I concluded Western Union isn’t really worth it
  • If you are desperate for money, TRANSFERWISE is better. The fee is very low (under AUD$3), it’s SUPER EASY to organise and the transfer happens in a few days. As long as you can find someone who is willing to withdraw cash for you you are sweet…and on that note:
  • You can also organise EMERGENCY CASH through Visa or Mastercard (or the company) but the process seems very long-winded. I tried to organise this and didn’t get very far. It was much easier to find someone from Australia in La Paz (luckily I stumbled upon someone in my hostel).
  • Or, you can ASK LOCALS for solutions. My hostel host in La Paz offered me an unconventional solution via AirBnb.
  • PAYPAL is also another option…but only if the person helping you also has Paypal. If they don’t, you have to use Transferwise or some other company. I had a lovely gentleman from England offer to withdraw money for me if I transferred him the money I needed via Paypal.
  • Another option – find another person from your country in the same city as you, transfer them the money and get them to withdraw for you. Be aware everyone gets charged different fees overseas. The guy that helped me in La Paz had a 3% fee on any withdrawals.
  • If you’re having difficulty finding someone to help you withdraw money, ask the Facebook community. There are
  • A direct international Bank transfer is ridiculously expensive too. I checked with my bank and they said the transaction would cost AUD$15.
  • DO NOT get an emergency credit card if you are traveling in South America (this might be the same in Asia too). There are too many banks and machines which don’t accept this and you can’t withdraw from ATMs. It’s basically useless in some countries.
  • Emergency credit cards are probably only useful in highly developed countries like the United States of America, Australia and Europe.
  • IN EUROPE: organise a pre-paid credit card. Another useful piece of advice my friend gave me. Sadly this isn’t so easy to do in places like Brazil (I checked).
  • Ask your friends or family for help. But be prepared, not everybody is such a good friend (I had a friend who refused to help me)… but then I eventually found one good friend who gave me his credit card details to buy a bus ticket online (and I transferred him the money after).
  • If someone else has your card details to share with you – only use ENCRYPTED Applications like Whatsapp. Remember to delete the conversation as soon as you’re done with it.

The lovely Australian I met who saved me in La Paz ~ he showed up just at the right time. I was about to go out to meet an English guy who was going to withdraw the money for me when I stumbled upon my savior. 

All getting this replacement emergency card has done is cause me lots of stress and tears. I wish I could go back in time to not replacing my card at all.

But what’s done…is done.

I have to work with what I have and just keep reminding myself that I am still living out my dream of traveling the world ~ I am extremely lucky to experience this.

I hope you enjoyed this blog 🙂 If you have any other advice on this, please share ~ I’d be happy to hear / read it

*Stay tuned for:

  1. My poor last-minute decision to go to Uyuni Salt Flats Part 2; and
  2. A blog about renewing your tourist visa in Brazil ~ yep I’m going to the Federal Police Station at 5AM tomorrow to do this :/

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