When I was doing the research for this article the first reactions of everyone I spoke to was “pickpockets” and/or “money belts”. These are prefectly valid concerns but things have moved on in the last ten years and most of us are actually carrying contactless debit and credit cards. I will leave you to think for a second about what that means before I continue.
Yes it is as bad as you imagined. Professional pickpocket gangs can quite literally charge your card just as if you had passed it through a till. They call this “RFID” or “electronic” pickpocketting and it is a growing problem. The same technology that allows you to buy bus tickets or other small items using contactless payments is being used by these thieves. You can buy RFID blocking purses, wallets or card cases that have wire mesh built into them that act like a Faraday Cage and interfere with the radio signals to stop this.
The common money belt has moved on a bit too. These now come as neck wallets, waist wallets and even leg wallets that look like those neoprene sports support sleeves and even belts that have a zipped pocket running along their entire length and open up to hold folded notes (very James Bond).
The actual chance of you being the victim of petty crime on holiday is higher than I had imagined and I was surprised. Figures for 2008 showed 12% or more than 1 in 10 British tourists suffered some kind of crime, most of it petty thefts, with the worst destinations being Spain, France and Austria.
With those sorts of figures then investing in a secure purse or wallet seems like more of a wise investment.
The other issue facing everyone today and not just when we are on holiday is card theft and what they call skimming or cloning. This is where the thieves tamper with a card reader such as an ATM (cash machine) and it reads the magnetic strip or chip when you use it and a hidden camera captures your pin number. Within minutes your card can be used for online frauds and within a few hours there can be a physical copy of your card being used in shops.
The basic advice is to check machines for any sign of tampering and, if you spot any, report it. Secondly cover your hand when you enter the pin. The first half of this advice is simply not going to happen! How many of us in a foreign country, probably not able to speak the language are going to report an ATM that may or may not have been tampered with? The second half, the covering your hand when you enter your pin is very good, simple advice both for at home and away. It is also worth ‘fake’ pressing a couple of numbers before and after you have entered your pin. If the camera is pointing at the key pad and they see your finger land on eight digits they will not know which four made up your pin.
This is a case where prevention and preparation are both very worthwhile. You do not want to have your holiday ruined by a petty crime. Make sure you have all the numbers of cards in a safe place such as the hotel safe and the contact telephone numbers for your travel insurers and the issuing bank. If you are only insured for £500 of cash then do not carry more than that. We suggest people carry prepaid currency cards and get a second card (you can get as many cards as you like on a single account, but some providers charge for secondary cards) that they keep in the hotel safe. If you do lose your card through fair means or foul you can always head back to the hotel and try and take all the money off the card before anyone else does!
A prepaid card is not like a debit or credit card, if you put £100 on the card then you can only take out £100. No one can run up a debt or access your bank account through it. You can add more money to the card either through your internet banking or telephone banking and friends or family at home can put money on the card for you if you really need more funds and you cannot access your bank. Prepaid currency cards can offer good exchange rates and can avoid charges for taking money out of foreign ATM machines. Oh and you also get the protection of Chip and Pin.
Do you have any good advice you can share? Please comment below.