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My Canadian bank has an extremely sensitive anti-fraud mechanism that treats all foreign transactions as "suspicious". I do not need those anti-fraud measures (I'm okay with taking the risk) and want to be able to use the card worldwide without ever calling my bank to let them know I'm traveling somewhere. For example my European bank was by far less mistrustful of foreign transactions and the concept of calling your bank before you travel would leave most Europeans quite confused.

Is there a key phrase I can use to demand that the bank switches off all anti-fraud measures on my card? I've tried speaking to my bank about it and the answer was "no" but perhaps there's a trick to achieving what I need, e.g. I need to disable some sort of an insurance provided by Visa?

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It doesn't disable all security checks, but there is a phrase that will eliminate the need for advance travel notifications on cards in North America. It's "Hello, AmEx? I'd like to open x card." American Express does not require travel notifications for its cards. If you call and try to give them a notification of upcoming travel, the automated system informs you that they don't need it. Or, at least, that's what it does on my U.S.-issued AmEx cards.

In general, card products that are aimed more toward frequent travelers will have less impedances to using your card abroad. On the flip side, cards that are aimed more toward the average consumer may place a hold on your account and try to contact you for verification just for using your card within the same country a few hundred miles away from your home.

While I don't have as much personal experience with them, I would assume that the same, or at least similar, would hold for other non-AmEx cards aimed at frequent travelers. For example, the Chase Sapphire products, Citi's travel cards, etc. I've not had any trouble using Chase's Hyatt card abroad, though I do call and give them a travel notification before using it out-of-country.

The other benefit to using travel-focused cards when traveling internationally (aside from their respective card-specific benefits) is that they tend not to charge foreign transaction fees. However, you can also get that on some fee-free cards, too, such as Discover or Capital One cards.

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    My only problem with Amex would be that their acceptance rate is hit or miss outside of North America. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Feb 14 '18 at 16:09
  • @JonathanReez Fair point. It seems to have improved quite a bit in the last several years (both inside and outside of North America,) though, at least in my experience. Acceptance rates outside of North America would definitely be better with the Chase or Citi cards, though, since those are mostly Visa cards. I usually find AmEx's acceptance to be good at places that specifically cater to travelers (e.g. hotels and such,) but for, say, shopping at a local family-owned store, a Visa will definitely be more likely to be accepted (especially outside of North America.) – reirab Feb 14 '18 at 17:03
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    How does this even answer the question? – CGCampbell Feb 14 '18 at 17:13
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    AmEx is generally considered the world's second least accepted method of payment after Diner's Club. You want Master Card or Visa in Europe for example. – Separatrix Feb 15 '18 at 9:39
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    @mattfreake, counted in terms of signs on the door saying "we do not accept the following" – Separatrix Feb 15 '18 at 12:46
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No. Since the bank is the one that has to assume the risk of unauthorized charges (by law, your liability can't be more than $50), it doesn't matter that you are "okay with taking the risk," because it's the bank's risk. The anti-fraud measures are there to protect the bank and are not optional.

You might consider getting a card with a different bank, as their anti-fraud algorithms vary widely, and others may be less sensitive, particularly after you've been a customer for a while and they learn you travel frequently. Some banks also allow you to set a travel alert through online banking, which is much faster than calling. Other banks will handle fraud alerts through text messages or their app; you can just respond that a charge was authorized and have your card reactivated within a minute rather than having to make international phone calls and talk to customer service.

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    Ah, so there's a law that's behind this paranoia... In Czech Republic you assume all the risk unless you buy extra insurance. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Feb 13 '18 at 20:01
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    The text messages work really well. I just had one on a US card issued by Chase (for an online purchase from the UK). Transaction failed. By the time I realized what happened, I had a message asking me to confirm it was me, respond "yes," click purchase again, transaction completed. – Zach Lipton Feb 13 '18 at 20:19
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    "it's the bank's risk": This is why I am so angry when they claim that these measures are in place to protect me. – phoog Feb 13 '18 at 22:27
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    @JonathanReez that’s actually incorrect. Per EU regulations, it’s the bank’s responsibility to ensure that you authorised the payment. All those insurances they sell you are in most cases completely useless for you. But anti-fraud practices do indeed vary quite widely from one country to another and from one bank to another. – jcaron Feb 13 '18 at 22:51
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    @phoog I'm not sure getting angry when companies deliberately make misleading statements is a productive use of adrenaline, cortisol etc. They're doubtless protecting you, the hapless consumer, from even higher bank charges than they currently levy. – Spehro Pefhany Feb 14 '18 at 10:37
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Canadian banks are indeed sensitive and most of the algorithms to check are automatic. That being said, not all foreign transactions are treated suspiciously but when they are, it is very inconvenient as this is something that caused me issues several times.

Calling your bank ahead of time is not an obligation but a recommendation but that reduces the cases when the suspicious activity alert is raised. I have had particularly frequent issues with Mastercard from Citibank Canada (at the time) and got them to dial it down to a more reasonable level for many years by insisting on the phone and getting escalated to a higher level agent. Some banks now allow you to enter your travel plans electronically which is more convenient yet still an annoyance.

With the conversion to credit cards with chips that happened over the last few years, alerts have been reduced somewhat but I did get into trouble for particularly odd timing. For example, spending at home in Montreal than starting to spend away in and booking a hotel for my next destination or buying a gift remotely for someone. This sequence of transaction location really get them, so what I do is switch cards to break down the hops across countries. I can do this since I have credit cards with 5 banks in Canada but that does not apply to everyone.

Some destinations are, according to the bank, more suspicious. For example, all online transactions I did with Brazil were blocked but I did manage to make some in person while there. I did complain and did not get much of an answer other than the system did not authorize.

The more you travel with regularity, the more the algorithm adapts to your patterns. Also some banks are more drastic then others. As I mentioned, Citibank tends to block transactions while Tangerine lets them through usually and calls to verify suspicious transactions which at least does not leave you stranded somewhere unable to purchase gaz or pay your car rental before taking your flight home. These things happened to me when I had fewer cards or in places where only one worked such as Iceland where gas stations are mostly unattended and only HSBC worked.

  • Some banks now allow you to enter your travel plans electronically which is more convenient yet still an annoyance. With RBC I used to send a one-sentence email to my "personal banker", to tell her when I was taking my cards out of the country. – ChrisW Feb 15 '18 at 19:28
  • Tangerine lets you declare your travel dates and destination countries using online banking. – 200_success Feb 16 '18 at 0:10
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It's likely your bank is extra-sensitive to international purchase risk because you have only lived in Canada for a few weeks, so your Canadian account is very new. If you lived here several years and traveled regularly you probably wouldn't have the issue.

All I can suggest is to have a mobile phone number that's affordable for the bank to call, and have it on file. Many banks will let a charge through, even if questionable, then call you to verify it was legitimate. (My bank, BMO, does this.)

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I can't answer directly w.r.t. law or bank policy, but a way to mitigate the issue would be to use either 1. an internet-based bank (safer than it sounds, Ally or Bank of Internet for example) and/or 2. A card that has specific features for international travel (Charles Schwab high-yield investor checking Visa, for example). I traveled internationally for a year with one of each of these and there were times I was in three different countries in a week - I never had any issues with fraud prevention (except one time where they successfully detected fraud) and never paid an ATM fee or an excessively high currency conversion. I also never informed anyone of my plans.

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