Credit card safety for business travelers

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesUsing a credit card when you're travel for business is convenient -- much more so than carrying cash or dealing with travelers checks. You automatically get an itemized statement for your expense account, they're widely accepted, and you can even use it at an ATM in a pinch. But business travelers, beware: It's easy for identity thieves and scam artists to take advantage of you (or your company, if it's a corporate account). Here are a 10 tips to keep in mind when you use a credit card while you're on a trip -- whether you're traveling for business or pleasure.

1. Know how to contact the card company. Before you leave, write down your card issuer's contact information. Take a copy with you (don't keep it in your wallet), and leave a copy at home. If your card gets lost, stolen, or eaten by an ATM, you'll be able to report the incident quickly -- and keep your liability to a minimum.

2. Monitor your account online. Make sure you have a secure connection first, of course, but keeping an eye on your account online can be a good way to catch any unauthorized usage before it becomes a major problem.

3. Protect cards from damage.
Those magnetic strips and bar codes are more delicate than they look. Consider keeping them in an aluminum wallet -- the hard, metal case guards against demagnetization -- or at the very least arrange them so the magnetic trips aren't touching.

4. Keep the fees in mind.
Most credit cards charge a higher interest rate for cash advances; some charge fees for cash withdrawals at ATMs as well. And if you're traveling overseas, be aware that many cards tack on a conversion fee when you use them to pay in a foreign currency.

5. Don't keep your cards together. If you lose your wallet and all of your cards are in it, you may be in big trouble. Keep an emergency card in a separate place -- the lining of your purse, an inside jacket pocket, or even in your shoe -- just in case.

6. Don't keep your access codes with your cards. You know you're not supposed to keep the Personal Identification Number (PIN) for your ATM card with the card itself; the same goes for online access codes for your credit cards. Afraid you won't remember it when you need it? Keep the code in your cell phone or address book as the last four (or however many) digits of the phone number of a fake friend.

7. Consider a reward card. If you travel frequently for business, you're probably racking up the frequent flier miles anyway. Check to see if the airline you use most often has an agreement with a credit card company (Jet Blue has their own card with American Express, for example), or use a credit card that offers points or miles as a reward, so you can add to your frequent flier account whenever you make a charge.

8. Keep a close eye on your credit card. Worrying about whether someone is peeking at your credit card number isn't enough anymore; with the prevalence of camera phones, it's easy for someone to snap a picture of your card while it's lying there on the counter -- and it's even easier for someone to double charge your credit card at a store or restaurant. Try to make sure your card is visible at all times whenever possible.

9. Let your credit card company know if you're traveling somewhere new. Many credit card companies monitor your purchases. Buy something big (or several things in a foreign country) and your credit provider may put a hold on your account. Letting them know you'll be in Belgium can save you the hassle of having your card declined when you need it most -- and if you tell them when you plan to be back home, they'll more easily be able to flag any fraudulent charges that may take place after you return.

10. Report problems immediately. It goes without saying that you should report any credit card problems immediately, but I'm going to say it anyway. Why the reminder? Under federal law, you are not responsible for fraudulent charges over $50 -- but only if you report your card lost or stolen right away (don't forget, your physical card doesn't have to be missing in order for your card number to have been stolen). Most credit card companies also require that you to detail the invalid charges in writing within 60 days; check with your own card companies to find out their exact rules.