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Moolah – Part 2

9 May

Did you know that you can use a credit card to buy a soda… from a vending machine?  I saw one of these machines today and was a bit taken aback.  They make sense, more often than not I don’t carry cash.  If I wanted high fructose corn syrup and this was my only option I’d be greatly inconvenienced.  Still…  It’s mixing two things that are bad for you in one handy place.

Speaking of things that can be bad for you, let’s talk about your ATM card.  It’s often bad for me because it accompanies me to Thursday night shows at First Ave.  When I know that payday is only hours away sometimes I will press my luck.  Sometimes I will just flat out ignore luck and tempt fate.  When there is beer, a merch table and a functional ATM there is trouble.  And by that I mean, I’m trouble and my bank lo-o-o-o-o-oves it.

I'm guessing this thing has a card reader, too.

Travel and My Beloved ATM Card

Anyway, what about taking your ATM card with you overseas?  I think it’s a great idea.  That’s not sarcasm either.  I think that it has a lot of benefits.  If you get cash you are not paying interest on it or borrowing from anyone, as you would with a credit card.  It is coming directly from your bank account.  The exchange rate will be charged but you’re going to pay that no matter where you get your money.  There, of course, some big things to remember.

Where to Use Your Check Card

Only use your check card during banking hours outside of a bank.  This way if your card gets eaten you can waltz (or prance) into the bank and ask for help, preferably while your lovable travel companion stands guard.  Before using the ATM check to make sure that there isn’t a fake card slot.  Yes, really.  Thanks to the internet I know some scammers have put a plastic device inside the card slot so when you stick your card in, you don’t get it back but they can watch you enter your PIN and grab the card when you leave.  Nothing to be scared about, just check the machine first and cover the PIN pad when you enter your number.

Using Your Card

European ATMs accept 4-6 digit PINs.  I’d suggest changing yours to 4 before you head overseas as you can’t change it once you’re there.  Better than searching for a machine that takes your 6 digit pin.  And I’m going to assume that you’re wearing a money belt because I love you.  So instead of digging into the sucker in a crowded place, duck into the loo and grab it.  Once you have your cash visit the loo again and stash your cash and card.  Let ‘em think you have a bladder problem.  I once left my card inside of an ATM in Puerto Rico.  By the time I realized it, it was too late.  My bank kinda, sorta, maybe, totally didn’t care.  Thankfully, I was traveling with someone who also had an account with the same bank and I was able to transfer money to their account so we could access it.  Not fun, but my trip wasn’t ruined.  Lesson learned, I know to guard my card like a hawk now.

Pickpockets

Yes, Europe has pickpockets.  Big cities are like that.  And it makes sense, if you think about it.  If you steal from a tourist there’s little chance that they are going to stick around and press charges.  Taking a few precautions will make the pickpockets seem interesting and not scary.  Rick Steves sells a great money belt.  Just about every travel site I read recommends that you travel with one.  It’s your life but I personally think I’d rather be a hair uncomfortable then a bunch pissed off.

Where Not to Use Your Check Card

Do not use your check card as a credit card.  In other words, don’t make purchases with it.  First off, if you are charged the wrong amount you are pretty much stuck with it.  The money is already gone directly from your account.  With credit cards there is a chance that you can question the charge.  If someone gets your card information, as I mentioned in my credit card post, they will not be spending the credit card company’s money – they will be spending yours.  Credit card companies work around the clock to prevent fraud.  Banks work around the clock to charge ATM fees (feels like it, anyway).  Also, never use your check card to reserve hotel rooms.  They will hold the price of the room plus incidentals for days, even weeks, until it falls off and the money is available again.  It’s good that the money isn’t actually gone but if you can’t get to it when you need it that’s almost as bad.

Check the Fees

Different banks offer different deals.  Some will charge a per ATM fee, some charge a percentage and some charge both.  This site can help you look over your options for both credit cards and debit cards.  Most banks charge ATM fees.  If yours does then either limit your visits to ATMs by taking out the max (typically $600 a day, but ask) or if it’s really bad… switch banks.  Most banks offer free checking and many don’t even need you to be in the same state to get a good deal.  I guess it depends on if you’d rather deal with paying a bit extra here and there to not have to deal with the hassle.

I hope that some of this was helpful.  Or entertaining.  Or a good way to kill time before you head home to watch Glee.

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Moolah – Part 1

6 May

Perhaps you have been blissfully unaware of the PlayStation Network being down since April 20th. I’d be in the dark about this one too but I live with someone who has been tormented by the loss. As such, I know that Sony’s gaming network was hacked, that Congress wrote Sony a letter asking them what’s up and that Sony responded. They told Congress that they were “the victim of a very carefully planned, very professional, highly sophisticated criminal cyber attack”. They also shared that though they couldn’t confirm that credit card information hadn’t been comprised that no credit card companies were reporting fraud linked to the hacking.

I bring this up here on Trip Ahoy! because it involves credit cards and the bad things that can happen to them, whether or not you are traveling. I used to work in the credit card industry so I thought I’d pass along a few thoughts.

Avoiding Blocks or Closed Accounts

There are many reasons, besides the trendy cyber attack, that your credit card can be shut down. If your card is lost or stolen, that’s an obvious one. What if you share a card with someone and theirs is lost or stolen? If it’s a joint account then yours is going along for the ride. Some cards will decline transactions if you surpass their daily limits for use. If they only want you to swipe the card 6 times then on number 7 you’re going to have to hunt down an 1-800 number and get friendly with a customer service rep.

I think it’s pretty common practice to call your credit card company before hitting the road to let them know that you are going to be out of town, for how long and where (especially if you’ll be in a foreign country). You might also want to check if they have the usage limit I described above or any max daily or per transaction dollar limits, too. Big ticket items are going to have closer scrutiny by default. And you want that to happen, believe me. What you don’t want is for your legitimate purchases to be turned down and cost you vacation time. Calling your credit card company during your trip isn’t going to be a fun travel memory, I don’t care if it happens on a gondola with Mickey Mouse.

Apparently, I can't dream up a scenario for Mickey that he hasn't already gladly participated in of his own free will.

Preparing for the Worst

If you can travel with two different cards this may be wise. Keep them separate and keep copies of the account and card numbers (not the expiration dates, cardholdersr, etc) in a different location and with a trusty friend at home (do not do this via email – oh bloody hell!). This really only takes a few minutes to set up and though you are certain not to need it, don’t you just love the feeling that you have your poop in a group (as Mom would say)?

Avoid Fraud Like Laundry Day

And lastly… some tips on keeping your information safe whether you are home or not. NEVER give out your card number to someone unless you contacted them and you trust them. If someone calls and says that they are from your bank, tell that’s nice for them. You’re busy, you’ll call them back. Banks don’t ask for this information over the phone because THEY ALREADY HAVE IT. The same is true for email from your bank. If they send you something that asks for account info or says to click on a link and then fill in all your info just mark it as SPAM. Then back away from your computer and consider yourself a vigilante against lameness. Celebrate by getting a super hero costume together. Send me pictures.

Check Yourself Before You… You Know

Don’t let this scare you away from online shopping. Those transactions are encrypted and as safe as an in person transaction. Maybe more. Some clever thieves are grabbing your info from the card by scanning it into a machine or by taking pictures of it with their cell phone. Okay, so that’s creepy but this is why it’s a good idea to check your accounts frequently. You can look at your transactions online, call to listen to a list of recent charges or even download an app for your smart phone. The good news with credit cards is that there is protection built in. Which leads me to my friend the ATM card… but that’s for another post.

LINKS:
http://www.creditcards.com/ – This site has info from all the big credit card companies
Detective Kevin Coffey – I could have just copied his post here because I agree with everything he says and you’re just going to have to believe me when I say that I didn’t plagiarize him.  I almost didn’t include this link here because it makes me look guilty but his info is spot on.