Something that initially started out as a bloody nightmare has turned into my favourite travel story to tell of our time on the road in Latin America. I can’t imagine another time in my life I’ll be so fond of using the word fraud but I feel like this is a story I should share. I was slightly apprehensive to write this post if I’m honest but hope my experience with fraud can help other travelers in future. Fraud is not something you want to think about when you’re travelling. It’s something that is so decapitating and can instantly end your trip. Here’s avoiding fraud whilst travelling and backpacking.
LEAVING THE UK – AVOIDING FRAUD WHILST TRAVELLING
We left the UK to go travelling on the 16th September 2015. We were filled with excitement, anticipation and a wanderlust so big we were bursting.
I won’t lie, of course, I was nervous. We both where. We’d done so much research on every possible way to handle our money. I never even considered fraud as an option, we were too sensible. I now wish I had read a fraud travel hacks post before leaving London on avoiding all forms of fraud whilst backpacking.
I’d read every article on card cloning and ATM fraud. I knew all the signs and how to properly check the machine. We had taken precautions to ensure we’d very rarely have to put our personal bank cards into a machine. I was sure we’d be safe. We chose a Thomas Cook Cash Passport to avoid any kind of malicious credit card fraud, We were set to go and we left London for a 6 month trip with all our money in one account.
Travel Hack: Have your money in more than one place. Savings. Mums savings. Somewhere that isn’t your current account. Spread your money out.
You can read my review of the Thomas Cook Cash Passport here in my Travel Money Done Right, Travel Hacks post.
Fraud was not on our minds when we left London, nor was it on our mind when we left Cuba two weeks into our travel. The minimal use of our cards was our travel hack and this led us to believe we were safe from fraud whilst travelling.
ATM’s AND WIFI – AVOIDING CARD FRAUD WHILST TRAVELLING
We pre-loaded our secure cash passport travel card before leaving the UK, not realising we wouldn’t actually be able to use it in Cuba. We never anticipated how difficult Cuba would be. The ATM’s wouldn’t always accept our cash passport and I later learnt this was something to do with it being a mastercard.
Travel Hack: Always check whether the country you are visiting accepts master card or visa. Not all countries accept both.
This was a common annoyance for us in El Salvador
and throughout our time in Central America. It certainly doesn’t make avoiding fraud easy when your un-fraudable card doesn’t work in ATM’s in certain countries, As I’ve mentioned research is always an essential travel hack.
We spent two whole weeks in Cuba without accessing wifi once. It didn’t bother us at the time but upon arriving in Mexico on the 1st of October we rushed to log on to the first available wifi. The novelty of being contactable soon wore off and a couple of hours later we were back exploring without our phones. We’d become accustomed to the freedom. There’s something liberating about leaving social media behind you. This negligence eventually became our ultimate enemy in our fraud case.
Travel Hack: Be on top of your finances, know your account so you can spot any unusual or unsuspected transactions.
It’s actually quite significant that neither of us had access to our online banking for two whole weeks in Cuba. We also didn’t pay much attention to our online banking for the first two or three weeks of our time in Mexico.
Travel Hack: Make sure all wifi networks are secure. Try to always use password protected networks and don’t disclose any important details on an open or public network.
This became our downfall. We’d been relying heavily on our Thomas Cook Cash Passport. We thought having an un-skimmable card was the ultimate travel money travel hack. We completely ignored our personal accounts until the time came to top up the Cash Passport.
Travel Hack: Don’t send or receive important documents on a public network.
During ur first few days in Mexico Jamie began to notice a few odd card transactions. We ignored them and assumed the payments were for a hostel or Airbnb we’d booked online or something else travel related. We didn’t look into the transactions when we should have and this led to three weeks worth of additional transactions we did not make.
WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG – AVOIDING FRAUD WHILST BACKPACKING
We needed to top up our travel money card but the wifi in our Puerto Escondido, Mexico hostel was slow and we were impatient. There was a pool party to get to. So we once again neglected our accounts and this time our travel card.
Jamie decided to use his normal UK visa to withdraw our money for the evening. His card was declined by the machine. We had no idea why Jamie’s card had been declined, it did, after all, have all our money on.
The next morning, confused by our ATM rejection we logged onto online banking for the first time in two weeks. Our account was missing £1,600 and had been permanently blocked, Jamie no longer had ATM access to any of our money. Puerto Escondido unfortunately became the place we’d always remember as the location we’d experienced fraud.
Travel Hack: Have a spare card for emergencies. We met a lot of guys travelling who’d lost their cards with no back up. Waiting in a hostel for several weeks for their new bank card to arrive.
For us, the transactions started small £7 here and There. They then became more frequent some twice or three times a day for weeks. The 1st of October is a significant date for us as it was the day we arrived in Mexico and Jamie had noticed the first 3 transactions. From the 1st October until the day we noticed over £1, 500 of our money had slowly been taken from Jamie’s account.
Because we had ignored those smaller transactions on the 1st October they slowly increased to £30, £50 and £80 transactions. Shopping from ASOS, Urban Outfitters, an entire weeks worth of food shopping purchased at an online supermarket in Beijing. Our hard earned money gone no travel hack could save us now.
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FRAUD ABROAD – AVOIDING FRAUD WHILST TRAVELLING
We were blindsided, baffled. We had been decapitated by fraud. Fortunately the Thomas Cook Cash Passport travel card was registered to my bank account. Meaning we could put the remainder of our money from Jamie’s account into my bank.
Travel Hack: Thomas Cook only allows one registered owner of their Cash Passport travel cards. If you’re travelling as a couple take one out each.
We had been robbed somewhere and somehow. The lack of wifi and our ignorance towards our online banking had allowed this to go on much longer than it ever should have. Somewhere between Caribbean beaches an internal Mexican flight and a 19 hour bus journey we had been conned.
We couldn’t believe the situation we were suddenly forced into. After phone calls to our parents and then several calls to Jamie’s bank we finally spoke to the right people. Several extortionate phone calls later and a log of all the transactions we were told by the fraud team of the bank in the UK we’d be reimbursed our money.
We were lucky this time but it didn’t go without arguments and tears. I guess that’s reason enough to follow any guide on avoiding fraud whilst travelling.
Travel Hack: Stay calm, being flustered and overwhelmed will get you nowhere in a similar situation. Think clearly, be level headed. Write down your transactions, key dates and purchases.
It’s a funny one because although we got our money back and our story has a happy ending we were still victims and we were still in Mexico cut off from our UK lives. For a while we were under the impression we would have to cut our trip short.
Strangely, we still don’t know where our card details were taken. Our evidence points back to a couple of transactions we made in Jamie’s home city of London before we left for our trip but we find that highly unlikely. Our Airbnb account was hacked the day after the transactions started and Jamie has always believed this to be too coincidental. We only found this out some time later.
Moral of the story and travel hack of the trip is, check your online banking. Be vigilant of any strange transactions. To be a travel hacker is to be cautious, to think ahead and to question any strange situations. Fraud can happen anywhere, even at home in blighty when you least expect it but it does happen on the road. Don’t be caught out by fraud.
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A 20-something travel blogger based in Liverpool. Covering all things from Latin America to Liverpool local guides and everything in between.