Travellers warned overseas credit-card fraud is up

Fraud against Australians using credit cards overseas has risen.

Czarlette Menzagopian was on her honeymoon in Miami last year when the credit card she shares with her husband was skimmed.

The 28-year-old conference-and-events manager doesn't know how it happened, but she knew something was wrong when she could not use her card to pay a hotel bill.

Many retailers in the US still take signatures as the US is yet to fully transition to chip technology and PINs.

Czarlette say she and her husband were "signing everywhere", but that they were careful not to let their cards out of sight.

She contacted her bank and after several phone calls over a couple of days her bank told her it had detected fraud amounting to $6000 and had cancelled the couple's credit card.

That was only halfway through their seven-week honeymoon.

The couple spent the rest of their trip using their debit cards on a very restricted budget. "It was quite a bit of a downer," Czarlette says.

"We were travelling on to Cuba and Central America where we expected those places might have issues but not Miami," she says.

The bank made good on the fraud. Their replacement cards were waiting for them when they returned home to Sydney.

The latest report on payment card fraud from the Australian Payments Clearing Association shows fraud against Australians using credit cards overseas, particularly in the United States, has risen dramatically.

Between 2014 and 2015, the amount skimmed from cards used overseas increased 77 per cent.

Because Australia now uses chip technology, domestic skimming fraud decreased by 10 per cent over the same period.

Fraudsters target US

Chip-enabled cards and payment terminals, where PINs are required, are much more easily traceable than cards with the fraud-prone magnetic strips where signatures are required.

The use of chip-enabled cards and PINs is standard in much of the developed world.

In Australia, merchants were given a deadline to change over. In the US, merchants have an incentive to change because they are liable for the fraud if they don't.

However, while the large retail chains and hotel groups have changed, many "mom and pop" stores still require cards to be swiped and signed as they do not want to pay for the new point-of-sale card processing terminals.

That is creating a rush among fraudsters to present fake cards at US merchants where the magnetic strip is still used.

The report also shows fraud in Australia is increasingly migrating online.

"Card-not-present" fraud in Australia grew by 38 per cent over the two years. This is fraud where valid card details are stolen and then used to make purchases or other payments with the card, mainly online and sometimes by phone.

Consumers are protected from personal loss caused by fraud and will be refunded as long as they have taken due care with their confidential data, says Andy White, the acting chief executive of the Australian Payments Clearing Association.

But there is the form that has to be filled out for the bank and the delay, usually of several weeks, before the new cards arrive.

There are a couple of things that card holders can do to reduce internet banking fraud and to reduce the risk of skimming when travelling overseas.

No one should transact online with retailers that do not have secure payment as shown by a "padlock" icon, says Angus Kidman, the tech expert and editor-in-chief at comparison site

The padlock symbol means any information you are sending to the site, such as your name, address and credit-card details, has been encrypted so that even if someone gets the data they cannot read it, he says.

"If you're making a purchase online, see if the website has https:// at the start of the website URL address as the 's' means the website is secure," Kidman says.

Payment by smartphone

Phone-based payment platforms such as Apple Pay and Android Pay potentially offer an additional level of security, provided your device is protected with fingerprint scanning, Kidman says.

Smartphone payment systems work like PayPal in that the details of your card do not go to the retailer.

"Remember though that these won't be as widely accepted overseas, and that you may well end up needing a physical card as a back-up payment option," he says.

Protecting against skimming fraud while overseas, in countries that are converting to chip and PIN technology such as in the US, is much more difficult.

"Don't let the waiter take your card away," he says. "If they can't bring the reader to your table, pay by cash, otherwise it is just asking for trouble," Kidman says. "To further minimise risk, use a prepaid travel credit card rather than your regular card.

"That way you won't risk more money than is on the card and if there are issues, you can cancel it without having to change all your other automatic payments and stored credit-card details."

Also take some cash.

Australians are very used to swiping for everything, including small purchases using tap and go, but in the US cash is still very much used, Kidman says.

This article was originally published by The Age on 26 August 2016. It represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.

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