A thief stole Ellen Meyer’s wallet in the Naples train station in Italy, and quickly used one of her credit cards to buy more than $11,000 worth of clothes, electronics, and gasoline—far more than the credit limit on the card. Meyer called her company in Canada to cancel the card as soon as she could, but was warned she could be held responsible for paying. “I’m still having flashbacks,” the professional musician confided a few days after flying home to Richmond Hill, Ontario.
As best she can tell, the thief plucked her wallet from her purse while it was jammed in the door of the train as she stepped aboard. She later learned: “The place I was robbed [in] is well-known to the police as a hotspot. I wish the travel guides mentioned that; it would have affected the decision to travel through there,” she adds. She soon began to doubt the value of her card issuer’s maximum liability policy.
Stolen card, lost time
Nearly two months passed before she learned the charges would be waived, but then a second credit card issuer questioned why she would carry a seldom-used card without knowing her pass code. Other travellers risk similar inconvenience and anxiety if they fail to take sufficient care. And it takes time to cancel cards, report to police, and arrange for replacement cards. All of this is more difficult when travelling outside of Canada. If you were away and lost possession of your credit card, you could have difficulty using tickets or reservations you had arranged online. You might have to notify companies that bill your credit card monthly that your account number has changed.
Cancelling a credit card is not that simple
Meyer was unable to cancel her card when she realized her wallet, cash, and various identification cards were missing. “In order to get from Naples to Sorrento (past Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii) you have to board the Circumvesuviana (train). It’s cattle-car crowded, dirty and has no air-conditioning.
“We should have just waited for the next train. [The one we took] was jammed and we had to run down the platform to find a car that could fit in with our luggage. The train even got stuck between the first two stops for about 20 minutes to add to the agony. In that 20 minutes, the card was already used many times.
“One of the worst things was being unable to reach an operator in Italy (code 170) because it doesn’t work on a cell, only an Italian landline. The contact numbers on the various websites were mostly useless as well. I went to the bother of registering my debit and credit card with my home bank so they could be monitored for unauthorised use. Fat lot of good that did.”
Is placing blame the new customer service?
Meyer had her own cell phone, but she would have incurred exceptionally high usage charges once she used up the 15 minutes of roaming minutes she was permitted outside of her home district. “There’s no way I could have gotten a [cellular telephone] signal in that train. When I finally got through to a manager (at MBNA Canada), calling on my cell from Sorrento, the manager said I must have had my [personal identification number]) in my wallet, or it was an easy-enough number for [the thief] to figure out from my birthday.”
Meyer did not appreciate how the employee jumped to conclusions, and accused her of revealing her PIN to the thief. “[That] is pure tripe. I never use the card. Don’t ask why I had it then. I just forgot it was in there. And I never knew the PIN.”
Meyer’s disturbing experience should be a lesson for others: Take extra precautions to avoid theft or loss of your credit cards while abroad, and have a back-up method for paying your travel or medical expenses while away from home. If those precautions are not enough, be prepared with a checklist of steps to take. Carry the phone numbers you will need to notify your credit card issuer about the loss of a card, as well as the numbers of the two Canadian credit bureaus. Carry instructions for calling their numbers from outside of Canada, or warn a friend or family member you might call on them to ask for assistance.