Money Monday – Why Do Banks Deactivate Debit Cards While Traveling?

Don't get to your travel destinaion and the debit card doesen't work!

by Jackie Robinson
15 views 7 min read

Why your debit card may not work while traveling.

My iPhone ariel picture fying over Washington, D.C.

If you have ever traveled out of state or internationally, you know that having access to your money is critically important. The last thing you don’t want to happen is not being able to check into your hotel! Even though you booked your hotel reservation online, the debit card you used is required at the check-in desk. 

So you get to your destination, check in at the hotel by presenting your debit card. You know, the one you used to book online. However, the agent comes back and says your card is not working. What the hell!  No way it’s not working because you know you have money in your account! Instead of arguing with the agent you decided to go online from your smartphone and check your account.  Sure enough, your money is there.  So what is the freaking problem?

Next, you find a quiet place and call your financial institution. They confirm that, yes, you have money; but, what you didn’t do was let them know you were traveling away from your home base.  The account is now locked.

Unusual Activity

Over the course of time your financial institution builds up a customer profile that includes information about your typical banking habits, such as when and where you use your debit card. If you normally just use your debit card for small transactions in your local community, your bank would view a large dollar transaction involving your card that occurred in another nation as unusual. As a precaution against theft or fraud, your bank may deactivate your card as a result of “unusual activity.

Unlock Your Card

The customer service representative will explain why your credit card has been blocked and may ask for additional information to verify the transaction that triggered the block. For instance, this might have happened if you made a purchase in a different state from where you live or if multiple transactions happened in a short amount of time, such as within the hour. The agent will unlock your card while you are on the phone, after you have proven your identity, confirmed that you still have the card and verified your purchase.

Why it Happens

Your bank can block your Visa credit card any time it notices suspicious activity on it. In addition to those mentioned earlier, common causes include:

  •  a transaction with an unusually large amount; 
  • a small transaction followed by a large one; 
  • and purchases in various states in a short amount of time. 

These shopping habits are similar to those of someone using a card fraudulently.

Avoid Future Occurrences

You can ensure that your bank does not block your card when it hasn’t been stolen if you keep your bank informed and take steps to protect yourself. 

  • Before you travel, for instance, call customer service and tell them where you are going, and when.
  • Also, enroll in your bank’s fraud protection program, such as Verified by Visa,
  • and promptly respond to any message or phone call from your bank about recent transactions.

Listen to the Audio Podcast

This has been your Monday Money tip for December 5, 2022! Happy Travels!

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