Tiffany Couch, CFE, CPA, CFF
CEO and Founder, Acuity Forensics
As I sat in the taxi in Jackson, Mississippi, waiting for the cab driver to “call in” my credit card because he had no credit card machine or app on his flip phone, I cringed. Just four days prior, I was teaching an ACFE webinar on travel fraud and here I was, hamstrung by an antiquated process that put my credit card at risk.
Oh, the joys of business travel!
Even though I had tried to do everything right, including mapping the route on my phone to make sure the taxi driver didn’t take an indirect route, and not letting on that it was my first visit to this city, I did not expect that the taxi would not be equipped with credit card capabilities.
I have found that learning to travel like an expert takes trial and error. In honor of International Fraud Awareness Week, going on this week. here are my top three best practices to avoid being the victim of fraud while you travel.
You’ve seen the ads on your social media feed or in your email inbox promising lower prices or even free airline tickets or free hotel nights. Avoid these gimmicks altogether, as they are often a scam to get you to pay in advance and in exchange, you get nothing. I have also found that “discount” travel sites often do not provide the savings promised. Booking direct with the airline or hotel not only greatly reduces your risk of fraud when booking travel; it can be a lifesaver when unforeseen circumstances requires you to make changes to your itinerary. Airlines and hotels are much more likely to accommodate a direct customer than they are someone who booked through a discount site.
Safeguard personal and business data
Think about the amount of data residing on your phone. From your personal information to your social media accounts, to other apps containing health and financial information, the amount of personal exposure you have if you lose your phone is significant. However, that exposure becomes critical when you think of the business or client data likely residing in your contacts list and the business email account that is likely pushed through to your phone and other devices (like tablets and laptop computers). While traveling, be mindful of this information and make sure that these devices are always on your person and accounted for. In the event that you lose one of these devices, do you have the ability to remotely wipe the device or shut it down? If not, implement those policies now to ensure that your and your client’s data does not fall into the hands of an unscrupulous person.
Carry Backup Methods of Payment
I typically carry a small amount of cash to ensure I can tip bellhops, cab drivers and hotel cleaning staff. But I was left flat footed not having the $65 needed to pay cash for the cab ride. And, when he “called in” my first card, it “declined.” Luckily, I had a backup credit card on hand for him to use. I immediately called the declined card company to ensure the charge had not gone through and to let them know I was traveling. I also watched both cards closely over the course of the next 10 days to ensure no unauthorized charges appeared. It is not uncommon for cards to decline when you use them in a new location. And it is not uncommon to need cash to pay for more than just tips. I recommend letting your card companies know in advance where you are traveling and carrying multiple credit cards. If you do carry cash or multiple cards, make sure the payment methods are not all in one place (e.g. all in your wallet or purse). If you lose a bag or are the victim of a theft, you’ll be thankful for the backup.
We fraud examiners often think of all the ways our clients can be victims of fraud to ensure we can detect or prevent it. But we don’t often think of all the ways we can be victims ourselves. Don’t be the victim of travel fraud: plan ahead, have a backup plan and be hyper aware of your surroundings so that you, too, can travel like an expert.
You can find more exclusive resources and tips about preventing and detecting fraud at FraudWeek.com.
Tiffany Couch is CEO and founder of Acuity Forensics, a nationally recognized forensic accounting firm. She is also the author of The Thief in Your Company, a book that explores the financial and emotional impact of fraud on organizations of all sizes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.