Avoid a summer travel credit card crisis

You dug out your flip-flops, stocked up on sunscreen and bought yourself a new pair of shades, but have you set up a plan of action to protect yourself if your credit card is lost or stolen when you're on vacation this summer? It's a step more Americans should be taking, according to Adam Levin, chairman of Credit.com. Not only can a missing credit card wreak havoc on your summer vacation plans, but it can leave you vulnerable to unauthorized charges and possibly even identity theft.

Your preparations need to begin before you even leave the house, Levin tells WalletPop. Decide which cards you'll bring with you -- if your whole wallet is stolen, it'll be an enormous headache to have to call numerous providers. Bring just one card you intend to use primarily and one or two backups, which should be stored separately -- not in your wallet or purse -- from the primary card while you're away. (Levin suggests keeping your backup cards in the hotel room safe - just don't forget them when you check out!)

Your next step is to contact the customer service departments of the cards you'll be bringing, tell them when and where you'll be traveling and ask them who you should contact if your card is lost or stolen (if you're traveling overseas, they might give you a different number than if you were staying in the U.S.) Then make a copy of your card numbers and those contact numbers, and store them in a safe place -- again, separate from your wallet or purse. Levin recommends using a web-based email service like AOL, Gmail or Hotmail to store these details if you'll have access to a computer when you're traveling. Just send yourself an email so you'll have the information in your inbox and can access it later if need be. This way, you don't need to worry about a hard copy falling into the wrong hands.

Once you're on vacation and if you have access to the Internet, Levin recommends checking your bank and credit card accounts as frequently as once a day to make sure all the activity you see is yours; this has the added bonus of helping you keep tabs on your spending. If you see any charges you don't recognize, that might indicate someone has accessed your number, and you'll need to stop using that card and report the illegal activity immediately.

If your credit card goes missing while you're traveling, contact the issuer as soon as possible; the quicker you let them know the card is missing, the sooner they can cancel the account and get a new card out to you. How long it will take you to get a new card varies by issuer; this article has details about some specific providers and offers a handy list of contact numbers, but in some cases, it can take a few days. This is the primary reason Levin says you should never travel with just one card, because you could be left stranded.

But what If you've had other information stolen, too, like your license or your passport? Levin says you might want to fill out a police report so there's a paper trail if someone tries to open up a credit card or loan in your name. He says it's also not a bad idea to put a fraud alert on your credit report, so bring along the contact info of one of the three credit bureaus, such as Experian. (You only need to call one; they'll tell the other two for you).

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