How to minimise the risk and impact of theft while travelling.

Theft, especially credit card and identity theft, has been a long-standing problem for business travellers abroad. BeTravelwise, a UK-based travel risk management organisation, deems petty non-violent crime to be one of the most common risks business travellers face. According to Financial Fraud Action, lost and stolen credit cards cost UK cardholders £96.3m in 2016, while counterfeit card fraud cost £36.9m. So how can you avoid falling victim to it?

Make copies

Theft or loss of credit cards and other important documents can happen no matter how careful you are. One of the best ways of reducing stress and inconvenience if this does happen is to make paper copies of important documents, travel and financial, before leaving home. These usually include passport, credit cards, driving licence, hotel reservations and insurance documents. Seasoned travellers recommend making two copies of each – one to take with you, and the other to leave at home with a family member or colleague.

When making copies of passports or emailing/faxing them, some travellers suggest adding a watermark to the document for added security. Microsoft Word has a watermark function, and you can add your own wording – “Only for hotel registration purposes”, for example – across the page, to deter identity theft.

Phone security

Pickpockets target expensive-looking mobile phones. In countries with high street crime such as Brazil or South Africa, it can make sense to use a cheap local phone and SIM while there and keep your valuable phone back at the hotel or well hidden, not brandishing it in public.

Before leaving, make sure you back up your mobile phone. Iphone users should also set the inbuilt “Find My Iphone” function to work (via Settings: Your Name: Icloud: Find My Iphone: on), so that you can erase the information on it remotely if you need to, as soon as your phone either has service or is connected to wifi. This can be done by signing into Icloud via an internet browser, finding your phone under “All Devices” and selecting “Erase Iphone”. As for Android devices, there are free apps such as “Find My Device” (on the Google Play app store) that work in a similar way – but make sure you install them first. If your phone does go missing, call your phone provider immediately so they can trace or block it.

Diversify your assets

Do not keep all of your money or documents in one place. Many travellers advise stowing cash and cards separately. Others suggest taking one credit/payment card out with you and keeping the others in the hotel safe. Storing cash in concealed pockets on your person is also a good idea.

Outsmart the thieves

Among the measures you can take to prevent petty theft from happening, there are also ways to outsmart your assailant in the event that it does. “Skimming” credit cards is the practice where your card is taken out of your sight for a minute or so, read by a special electronic reader, and cloned before being returned to you. The simple solution to this is to not let the card out of your sight – admittedly that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Some travellers recommend scratching the CCV codes off the back of credit cards to render them useless to criminals who steal cards. Either remember the final three-digit code or write it down and store it in a safe, separate spot.

An old trick that is simple, but effective is to carry a fake wallet to hand over during a robbery. One could even fill it with out-of-date credit cards to make the ruse all the more convincing.

Another tried and trusted tactic is to conceal valuables in a money belt underneath your clothing.

Be aware

Above all, being aware of your surroundings is key to staying safe as a business traveller. This includes the standard warnings of avoiding dark, unpopulated streets and ignoring strangers who might try to harass you, even if the strangers appear to be well dressed and sophisticated.

Most importantly, know the local emergency phone numbers. Although the European Commission advocates 112 as an emergency phone number across the European Union, some countries in the EU have their own numbers (in the UK it is 999, for example). In the US the emergency number is 911.

Olivia Hultgren

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