Safe spending tips for travelers–2016 Olympics edition

By : Dena Hamilton

August 11, 2016 12:00 PM

Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and is promised to be the sporting highlight of the year. However, anyone planning to attend the Games should be aware of how they can protect themselves when using cards or making payments while abroad.


With up to 500,000 visitors from around the world expected to make their way to Brazil for the Games, security for travellers remains a top priority for the Games’ organizers and their key banking partners.


A considerable challenge to maintain security


Having opened on August 5th, the 2016 Rio Olympics represents one of the biggest and most attractive sporting events on the planet, and will see hundreds of thousands of people relying on Brazil’s financial services infrastructure to withdraw cash at ATMs and make card payments in shops, restaurants etc.


As a result, the flood of global visitors presents a unique challenge to the banking sector in ensuring fraudulent activity is kept to a minimum and visitors feel confident to enjoy their stay.


Card skimming is a common risk and it can be difficult for individuals to realize their details have been compromised until many days or even weeks after they have been stolen. Banks, therefore, work tirelessly to identify potentially fraudulent transactions and to inform cardholders in cases where they believe a fraudulent transaction may have taken place that could have originated from a skimmed card or data breach, for example.


Moreover, with the rise in contactless payments of recent years, and due to the fact that Brazil remains a world leader in the take-up of this more convenient payment practice, PaymentEye reports that all POS terminals set up by Visa at this year’s Games will be contactless-enabled. The firm is implementing 4,000 terminals across key Olympic venues to make it easier for visitors to pay for goods and services, along with 11 new ATMs in partnership with Bradesco, one of Brazil’s largest banks.


These newly installed ATMs and POS terminals could become key targets for criminals. Obviously, one of the main benefits of contactless is that it eradicates the risk of a card being skimmed, but there will undoubtedly be many cards used in a traditional way, such as being inserted into the machine. Successfully planting a skimming device could result in thousands of people being defrauded – even if the device is only active for a matter of hours before being removed – so merchants and visitors must both be sensible and look out for anything suspicious.


Legacy hardware in place before the Games could be even more vulnerable. Securelist notes that, according to local media, 14 separate ATM skimmers were installed at Rio International Airport during 2014 – the year Brazil hosted the World Cup. At the same time, there was an increase in malware and black box attacks – so we shouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens during the Olympics.


It is not just at this year’s Summer Olympic Games that travellers must be vigilant in protecting their personal information. Anyone planning journeys abroad where they plan to use their cards, regardless of their destination, should be cautious.


Top tips for travellers


When travelling in a foreign country, it is important for visitors to have their wits about them at all times and to take a number of sensible precautions in order to help protect themselves.


Here are just a few simple steps that individuals can take to protect their personal information and ensure they do not fall foul of fraudulent activities when withdrawing funds overseas:


1. Notify your card company and advise them as to when you are traveling, where you are traveling and when you plan to return.
2. Pay close attention to ATMs. Look out for loose or ill-fitting fixtures, areas of different color etc. as these are tell-tale signs of tampering. If faced with any doubts about the validity of an ATM or its fittings, find a different one to withdraw money from.
3. Keep cards out of sight when possible to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
4. Take funds with you in foreign currency, rather than depending solely on cards.
5. Use ATMs in trusted locations, such as inside banking premises, to reduce the risk of fraud.
6. Check your balances and accounts frequently.
7. Be cautious about accessing online banking sites from public Wi-Fi areas that are not secure.
8. Be vigilant about using cards at POS terminals in shops and restaurants and don’t let your card out of your sight. Where possible, pay for goods and services in cash.


Observing these simple steps can help to safeguard personal banking information more effectively, but they will not completely eradicate the risk of fraud. As the methods used by criminal gangs get more and more sophisticated, the onus is on banks, and the partners they work with, to ensure they are able to quickly detect and neutralise fraudulent activity. But as banks around the world invest in the latest intelligent fraud detection solutions, the job for the criminals is getting more and more difficult.


Dena Hamilton

GM/Director, Enterprise Fraud & Security Software Solutions

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Dena specializes in fraud, risk, compliance and security with over 35 years in the financial services space. Her focus is in the development and deployment of enterprise financial crime solutions optimized in prevention, detection and back office efficiency.