Credit card companies are ditching old-school travel alerts for always-on location tracking

Credit card companies are ditching old-school travel alerts for always-on location tracking thumbnail

Protecting my money while on the road now means sacrificing my privacy.

As I prepared to travel to four different countries to work remotely for four months far from my hometown in California, I figured I’d have to give my banks, as well as credit and debit card issuers, a heads-up. It’s what fiscally responsible travelers do. Mostly, I didn’t want any fraud alerts to go off the minute I used my card in my first stop, Chile, a hemisphere away.

I’ve always alerted my bank, Bank of America, whenever I’ve planned to travel to New York, Nevada, Canada, or really anywhere out of state, or beyond the U.S. But when I opened the BofA app a month before my international flight, the travel alert options were gone. Instead, I was prompted to turn on location services for the mobile banking app to “always.” That way, if the app tracked me as being in Santiago, Chile, but my card was used in Valencia, Spain, my bank would know something was up. 

The only thing is I have to allow the app to constantly monitor my location via my iPhone. That’s a lot of tracking. I’ve never given an app that much access. At most, I allow tracking “while using the app,” but not all the freaking time.

With Apple’s new privacy settings in iOS 13, every so often a dialogue box will pop up asking if I really want to allow the BofA app to always track my location. Under location services settings, it explains why you should allow this level of access: “To reduce card declines, BofA will access your location at least once daily to verify you’re near your Visa card when it’s being used.”

There's an app setting for that.

There’s an app setting for that.

Image: sasha lekach / mashable

A Bank of America spokesperson said this alert-free fraud-detection setting has been an option since late 2017, but only for Visa cardholders. (My credit cards through BofA are all Visas.) Technically, you can opt-out by toggling off the “Verify Your Visa Card Is With You” option through the Visa Card Location settings, but it’s a separate system from the Bank of America app. You can also opt to not give BofA any location access and limit it to only when you open the app, or even never. Living on the edge.

You can try to avoid it, but credit card tracking is becoming more commonplace. Chase user and travel blogger Becca from the website HalfHalfTravel left the U.S. last weekend and was surprised when Chase informed her that a travel advisory setup was no longer needed for her Sapphire Reserve credit card. 

“Chase didn’t suggest I take any action at all,” she said in a direct message.

Chase, like BofA, is all in on minimal communication when traveling. A spokesperson confirmed this in an emailed response: “Innovation in fraud detection capabilities has improved our customer experience in travel, whether domestic or abroad.”

Others who use Capital One discovered travel alerts have dropped off there, too. 

But not every bank is forcing location tracking on its cardholders. For her Charles Schwab debit card, Becca found that a human in customer service was still willing to set up travel advisories for her cards based on her itinerary, something most of us have done for years when traveling. 

Another major credit card player, American Express, frames its tracking as “industry-leading fraud detection capabilities.” To be clear, Amex doesn’t use location tracking through your phone. But it does monitor where you are making transactions, even if it’s an online purchase. On the Amex website, the travel section notes, “You don’t need to notify us before you travel.” It’s been this way for several years now. Thanks, I guess.

New to the credit card scene is Apple with its iPhone-friendly Apple Card. Less surprisingly, flagging travel plans is unnecessary for this card. Like Chase, Amex, and Bank of America, if Apple detects something is off with your spending, it’ll trigger a whole notification process. In a customer service exchange, an Apple Card representative explained, “If we suspect unusual activity, you’ll receive a notification you can tap to let us know it’s you.”

Apple Card doesn't need to be told anything.

Apple Card doesn’t need to be told anything.

Image: sasha lekach / mashable

So, while some cards (like Discover which has a web portal to register your travel plans) are still relying on a website or app system for users to manually add their pertinent travel deets, expect the majority of credit and debit cards in your wallet to just keep getting “smarter.” 

And by smarter, we mean creepier.

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