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Using credit cards outside of the country

As well, in order to withdraw cash from your credit card using a bank machine, you'll need to know your Personal Identification Number (PIN). You can also expect to pay a service charge if you use a bank machine that doesn't belong to the bank that issued your card. Such fees can be as high as $5 a withdrawal, so use cash advances sparingly.

During your trip
When you're using your card, be protective of your information. "Never write, or allow a merchant to write, your card number on a cheque for identification purposes," says Jennifer Brown, public affairs and communications for Amex Bank of Canada, in Toronto.

Brown also suggests leaving no room on credit card receipts for servers to add to the tip you've written in. If you leave a cash tip as opposed to using your credit card, draw a line through the tip section of a receipt.

As you're shopping up a storm, keep your receipts for everything you buy, from hotel stays to concert tickets, to compare to your card statement when you get home.

It doesn't hurt to travel with two credit cards. Keep one on you and another hidden in a safe place for back up. If your card is lost or stolen, call your credit card company immediately. Or, depending on where you're traveling, alerting them online may be easier -- for instance, Internet cafes are everywhere in Thailand, whereas you have to search to find a phone at times.

If you do lose your card, card companies can issue you a temporary card. For example, MasterCard users receive a temporary card within two business days in most international locations. 

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New technology
Canadian credit cards still use magnetic stripes to store user information; however, in the European Union and other countries, cards now use computer chips. Instead of signing your name on a receipt to verify your identity, you're asked to key your PIN into a terminal after your card is scanned.

"The chip card is amazing technology that is virtually impossible to crack and to counterfeit, and you increase the security even more when you use it in combination with the PIN," says Tania Freedman, director of corporate communications for Visa Canada, in Toronto. She says that in countries, such as France, that use this technology, credit card counterfeit has been reduced by 80 percent.

Don't worry if your credit card doesn't yet have a chip: "any merchant who accepts MasterCard has to accept all forms of MasterCard payment cards presented to them, whether it's a magnetic or chip card," says Reed.

When you get home
If you're away from home for months at a time, you may not be able to compare your receipts with your credit card statement for some time. But that doesn't matter; there's no statute of limitations on reporting fraudulent activity. But once you do notice something, call right away to review your purchases.

Melanie Chambers is a freelance writer based in London, Ont.

-- Posted: March 30, 2007
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