Traveling abroad? Protect your credit cards

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If you're headed to exotic ports of call this spring or summer, you know that carrying U.S. currency isn’t always an option to pay for food and all those cool trinkets you want to tote home. Which means your credit card gets to visit a foreign land, too.

Before you pack your credit card’s bags, make sure to notify the card issuer at least two weeks in advance that you’re leaving the country – and taking your cards with you.

If the card turns up being used in a country other than yours, the card issuer may suspect it’s been stolen. And to protect you, they’ll freeze the account.

Some other things to keep in mind:

Beware of calls from the front desk Scammers love to pose as the hotel’s front desk and ring you saying the need to verify card information.

This has become so popular that many hotels post warnings to guests cautioning against providing any personal information, particularly credit card information, over the phone.

Remember, the front desk already has this information on file and has no need to call you for it.

Know what’s in your wallet. Make a photocopy -- front and back -- of any credit and ATM cards, drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards, etc., you’re taking on your trip. Leave the copies with someone you trust back home. If your wallet or purse is stolen, you’ll know what to cancel and how to contact the card issuer.

Choose a new pin. Many European credit card systems and ATMs require 5 to 6 digit PINs and will not recognize four digit ones. Repeated denials at the ATM could trigger the suspicion of fraud -- even if you’re the one trying to get a cash advance. And that can lead to your card being frozen or canceled. A quick call to your card issuer will help you determine if your destination requires a new temporary travel PIN.

Prepay your way. If stolen, a prepaid credit card doesn’t open the door to international ID theft for the amount you want to spend. Many existing providers will have this available for the customers. This is a great way to budget and increase security/privacy.

Foreign currency fees. Most cards carry some form of foreign exchange transaction fee, ranging from 1 to 4% of the transaction. So for every $100 you charge, you’re going to cough up an additional $1 to $4 fee. Before swiping your card in a foreign land, ask your provider about your card’s foreign transaction fee structure.

American Express has recently eliminated transaction fees for U.S. consumer and small business Card members who make international purchases with their platinum cards. This addition is part of a small, but growing list of credit cards that don't charge for overseas use.

Locate the embassy. Know where the U.S. embassy or consulate is located in the country you’re visiting. If you are a victim of ID theft (or another crime), the embassy or consulate may be able to offer assistance.

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