One phone call to make before you travel

David Pollino
Posted by David Pollino

I flew to Paris recently on business and did a test with my credit cards. I intentionally did not make the one phone call I always make before traveling internationally. Can you guess what that call is?

Sporty couple on holiday, crossing a busy street with taxis in the background.When I arrived in France, I made a couple of small purchases using two different credit cards. The transactions went through without a problem.

Then I wanted to buy my wife a gift for about 280 euros, or $300. No surprise to me, the transaction was declined on one card. I tried my other credit card. Denied, again.

Excellent! Credit card fraud protection working as I would expect. But, I still had a gift to buy.

Since I was prepared for this credit-card checkmate, I took out my mobile phone. I had enabled international roaming and so was able to make my belated call to the toll-free phone numbers on the cards and have customer service unlock them.

A tool for your protection

Just as fraudsters are out to get you, credit card issuers are out to protect you. One tool they may use to protect you from fraud is known as a fraud score, which helps gauge the risk of a transaction based on a credit cardholder’s typical patterns of card usage. If a customer consistently buys lattes, groceries, and gasoline with a card and a $2,000 flat-screen TV purchase pops up, that may be perceived as a risky transaction. Similarly, I live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, so a $300 transaction in Paris — when my card issuers think I’m still in California — will likely send up red flags.

The moral to this story? When you pack your bags, prepare your plastic. Make that call to the customer service number on the back of your credit card before you travel. In addition, make sure you have all your contact information up to date so if a fraud alert does happen you can be reached at the best possible number. Better yet, if your bank offers text alerting for card fraud, make sure to sign up.

Consequences you may avoid

If you don’t take the proactive step above, you may have your card locked while on the road. This may mean:

  1. Inconvenience: You may have a transaction denied.
  2. Waste of time: You’ll need to take time — which always seems in short supply when traveling — to call your card issuer and get the card unlocked.
  3. Cost: If you use your mobile phone to call customer service while on the road you may incur potential roaming charges.
  4. A real pain: If your mobile phone doesn’t work overseas, you may need to find a landline and make an international collect phone call to the number on your card. Frankly, who even knows anymore how to make a collect call?

Summer travel season is near. Travel safely and securely.

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  • Anonymous says:

    bank of the West should have a place on their website to do this so I do not have to make an annoying phone call.
    I got a gotcha by one of my cards when I tried to purchase plane tickets from Oakland to Copenhagen. It was denied! I was really mad because I ended up using a 14% card to buy the tickets instead of the 7.9% card that was denied! The transaction ended up costing me more in interest costs! It got red flag because it was out of character for me even though it was me!

    Reply | 5 years ago
  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the information. I will use it next time I travel.

    Reply | 5 years ago
  • Anonymous says:

    BOW wants a phone call if you are going to use your ATM card overseas. In France use a BNP Baribas ATM machine so as not to incur out of network charges.

    Reply | 5 years ago

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