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Home » Identity Theft, Travel

I Got Burgled! 10 Tips to Avoid Theft when Traveling Abroad

Last updated by on 9 Comments

While traveling to other countries it is very easy for ‘opportunistic’ locals to quickly distinguish you as a target….err….tourist. While on my recent trip to Peru I became a victim of theft, even after I heard a story from a fellow traveler who had a $1,000 camera swiped from a zipped up pant pocket just the day before. My wife and I were very cautious following the suggestions I will offer below (with the exception of one, and it cost us). It was not until the last hour, of the last day of our travels that we put down our guard for a minute and quickly became victims.

How I Got Burgled

pickpocket travel theft

We were at the airport ready to pass through security when we were re-directed because we had yet to pay our airport fee. Airport fee? Airport’s in Peru charge an ‘airport fee’ of $20 per ticket for domestic flights and $60 per ticket for international flights! Now that’s theft. Botta bing!

The airport did not accept credit cards, and we had zero cash on hand. I was quickly irritated at what seems to be a ridiculous fee and now I had to withdraw cash one last time from an ATM and pay the ATM withdrawal fees! We headed over to an ATM and withdrew the cash.

The goofy fee and anxiety towards getting to our gate made us lose focus for just a minute. And that’s all it took. I realized the next morning, while unpacking, that my debit card was gone. My wife quickly assured me not to worry because most ATM’s will shred your card if you do not grab it quickly enough and besides no one was in line behind us.

I checked our bank account and sure enough someone had successfully withdrew $200 not once, but twice, from our account! How could someone withdraw without knowing the pin number to my card?? I called the bank to have them cancel the card and inquire about the theft withdrawals. The bank told me that there are some ATM thieves out there that have small cameras attached to ATMs where they can look at to see what you are punching in for your pin number and this is what must have happened in my case. I had no idea this was possible. Lesson learned – the hard way.

How you Can Avoid Theft & Subsequent Hassle When Traveling:

Here are some recommendations that I have based on research, personal travel experience, and advice from my wife, who spent 3 months traveling in Europe:

  1. Wear a money belt. They are super cheap and worth every penny. Store all your important documents such as your passport, credit cards, most of your cash, itinerary, and tickets here. This a great way to prevent pick-pocketing and you don’t have to worry about holding on to your wallet in your pocket at all times.
  2. Always have your luggage attached to you. Backpacks vs. rolling luggage is a plus (plus it’s easier to get around). While traveling someone told us of how they stored their luggage under a seat on the bus, fell asleep and woke up realizing their luggage was stolen. Someone had cut a hole in their bag and took everything out from under the seat.
  3. Carry your camera in a VERY secure location. Clean thoughts.
  4. Distribute cash between multiple travelers and between locations on you. Carry the majority of your cash in your money belt and a small amount in a pocket or wallet for quick access. If robbed, you could also explain to a thieve this is all the cash you had.
  5. Leave valuable jewelry such as wedding rings and watches at home.
  6. Take a taxi back to your hotel at night. In Peru we had to have the restaurant call a reputable taxi company since there are some taxis ‘not to be trusted’.
  7. Scan and email important documents to yourself. Scan your passport, credit cards (front for card number and back for phone number) and any other critical information you would need  quick access to if your personal items were lost or stolen. Email the scanned document to yourself and possibly one other person
  8. Carefully shield the pin pad when making withdrawals at ATMs.
  9. And always grab your debit card when finished at the ATM!
  10. If you can use a credit card that doesn’t charge you interest on ATM cash advances vs. a debit card that won’t cover 100% of theft, you’d be wise to do so.

Travel Theft Discussion:

  • What things do you do to protect yourself when traveling?
  • What is the most valuable possession you’ve had stolen or lost when traveling?
  • What’s the damn craziest travel story you have?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


9 Comments »
  • Tuan says:

    I must admit that sucks. I am paranoid at ATMs that I am not familiar with (I have the luxury of going to 1 ATM). However even then, I use the old fashion way of covering my hand with the other hand when putting in my pin number.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Thanks for all the support guys. The Bank refunded all but $50. Ultimately, I am happy with that, but had I used a credit card and done a cash advance, I’d still have that $50! It goes to show that credit cards are the preferred payment option just for that reason (plus the rewards). I only lost $50, but it could have been much worse.

  • James says:

    The simply way that checking the ATM machine before you insert you card. They may copy all your info and your password when using.

  • Paul says:

    When putting your card into the ATM (or a gas pump here at home) gently grab the plastic shield and shake it back and forth. It should be VERY firm, if there is any play in it, someone may have attached a skimmer.

    Sorry to hear about your loss GE! I have been fairly lucky so far, that said, being lucky in this respect is my day job.

  • Maria says:

    Re: #10 – this is not the first time I’ve seen/heard what I consider to be incomplete advice about using credit cards for cash advances. You don’t need a credit card that doesn’t charge you interest on cash advances (do they even exist??) – simply a bit of preparation before you leave home.

    Here’s what I do – all it takes is pre-loading your credit card before you leave with the money you think you’ll require. If your original plan was to use a debit card, then this is already money you have.

    This way, your credit card now basically works as a debit card, since your account is in the positive. You get both the benefit of no interest charges (since the cash advance gets “paid” from the positive balance on your account before they start charging interest) and the full theft protection of a credit card.

  • PureFi says:

    Maria, that’s a very smart idea.

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss – that stinks, GE. I know of very experienced travelers who have been robbed despite taking good precautions such as the ones you mentioned.

    I protect myself while traveling by trying to find a local friend of a friend and meet up with he/she early in my trip (I can email or Facebook my friends to find someone for example). That way I have a resource who can give me some tips and can also provide help should I encounter any problems.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Good advice guys. Happy traveling.

  • Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says:

    While my family (2 younger sisters and my parents) and I lived in Europe and visited different cities, my mom gave us all wallets that you wear around your neck with the cord under your shirt.

    We also had to walk with the youngest in front with Mom at her side to my 6’4″ Dad in the back. Only my mom and I carried the backpacks that Dad would keep an eye on them.

    It sounds weird but it felt natural…I was a moody teenager with earphones on all the time, so I didn’t care where they wanted me to walk… :-)

  • db says:

    Last time I found an ATM that mysteriously didn’t seem to work, I started snapping pictures of it with my phone, from all angles! the outside of the store too, the street corner, the people running the shop, everything… :)

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