The following is a guest post by Kelly Kehoe. If you’d like to submit a guest post to Money Q&A, check out our guest posting guidelines.
Credit and debit card fraud happens all the time, but if you’re traveling abroad like I did recently, it can be a nightmare to deal with. After withdrawing money from an ATM just once in Barcelona, I received an email two days later about a withdrawal that had posted to my account amounting to $540.
Another transaction from the same vendor with the odd name (it was Russian, according to my frantic Google search) was pending for $285. I immediately emailed my credit union (it was 9pm back home) and within 12 hours, my ATM card was completely shut down.
While I was grateful that no other fraudulent charges would show up, I was now in trouble because I had zero access to my bank accounts (except online), no cash (a lot of places I went to in Europe, especially Germany, were cash-only), and 8 more days left of my trip with just a credit card to help me pay for expenses.
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How to Get Cash After Your Debit Card is Stolen
To save you a headache and anxiety of confronting the same problem I did, here are some things I learned while dealing with debit card fraud abroad:
What to Do When Your Debit Card is Stolen
The Federal Trade Commission outlines your legal rights in cases of credit or debit card fraud. If you’re lucky like I was – even though I didn’t feel “lucky” at the time! – and you still have your debit card in your possession, then you won’t be liable for any of the fraudulent charges as long as you report them within 60 days.
If your debit card was lost or stolen, however, you could be liable for up to $50 of the charges if you notify your bank or credit union within 2 days. If you notify them after 2 days but before the 60-day mark, then your liability increases to $500. If you wait longer than 60 days, then you could be liable for the entire amount of fraudulent charges. Even if you have to pay a couple dollars to call your bank from abroad, it’s worth it to report the charges as early as possible.
Once you report the fraudulent charges, your bank or credit union will likely email you a dispute form to fill out and return (ask a representative how long you can wait to submit this if you don’t have access to a computer or printer while traveling). Depending on your financial institution, you could get your money back within 48 hours to 3 weeks, on average. To ensure other aspects of your personal identity are safe, keep a close eye on your credit report for the next couple months as well.
If you are staying or traveling with a trusted friend or family member, then the best way to get cash would be sending them money over Paypal (or Google Wallet or Venmo) and have them withdraw cash for you. I was fortunate enough to send money to my German friend’s boyfriend via Paypal and get more Euros that way, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the foreign currency exchange rate was slightly better than what I was getting from local ATMs.
Credit Card Cash Advance
In a moment of desperation, while traveling alone, I was forced to get more cash from an ATM using my Capital One card. While I was grateful for the lack of any foreign transaction fees through this card (typically 3% with other credit cards), the cash advance process was incredibly frustrating.
I needed to set up a pin number online, then when I wanted to withdraw money, I had to pay a whopping $10 fee just to get cash. Additionally, credit card cash advances start accruing interest immediately (rather than from statement to statement) and the cash advance interest rate was 5% higher than my usual credit card rate, so I paid off my balance as soon as the withdrawal posted to my account to avoid racking up more debt.
Alternatively, Western Union could be an option if the previous two don’t work for your situation. The fees are considerably higher than the alternatives – I considered sending myself money “within minutes” using my bank account and the Western Union website and the international money transfer fee was still quoted $27 for just $150 – and if you’re not near a Western Union location then it might not be ideal, either. Save this option for your last resort.
Panic-Free Strategies for Future Travels
If you’ve had your debit card stolen while traveling, then you probably already take precautionary measures to ensure it won’t happen again. However, if you’re like me and never dealt with this previously, there are several strategies to implement into your travel plan to avoid panicking if the worst case scenario arises and you have to temporarily freeze your bank accounts:
Bring some emergency cash and hide it well
I personally dislike carrying cash after an incident with a clever pickpocket a few years ago who “accidentally” knocked me down and apologized profusely while “helping” me back onto my feet (all the while, his stealthy accomplice whisked away the cash hiding in my front jeans pocket). However, I now recognize that keeping some cash in a hidden pocket of my travel suitcase back at my hotel or Airbnb would be useful in these “just in case” scenarios.
Open a separate checking account for travel expenses
As long as there are no/minimal fees attached to having another checking account, you might want to consider having a second account to turn to in case your primary account needs to be frozen for a bit to prevent additional fraudulent charges from occurring. It can be cumbersome to manage two accounts, but it would be so worth it in emergency situations.
Don’t use ATMs near tourist traps
I’m pretty sure there was a secret card skimmer at the ATM I attempted to use near a tourist trap in Barcelona. Even though I ultimately went to a different ATM because the withdrawal fees at the first one were outrageous ($7 plus a currency conversion fee!), I would never withdraw from an ATM near a tourist trap in the future because those are the places where unsuspecting, eager tourists are more likely to get scammed.
Check your bank accounts regularly
Check your bank accounts regularly and contact your bank ASAP if you see fraudulent charges: My credit union has a mobile app, which I regularly accessed while traveling to check my balances. I also had an email alert system set up to inform me whenever more than $100 was withdrawn or charged, which was what ultimately saved me because I received an email of the first fraudulent charge the same day it posted.