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Safety, security, budget compromised during travels and shopping

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Recently, I found myself in Rome at the Roma Termini Station with a man pointing a device at me. It was larger than a cell phone but smaller than an iPad. It didn’t occur to me what he was doing, and then as fast as it happened, maybe 10 seconds, he was gone.

It turns out he was pointing a scanning device at me. He hacked my credit card.

Yacht crew face lots of security issues in their travels. Criminals tend to flock to busy tourist destinations and count on people being distracted by the scenery to pay much attention to the strange device being pointed at them. They come to town, stay for a day, use their scanning devices and then are gone. Then they sell their catches (card numbers) on a black market Internet site or use it to their benefit.

By the time we realize our credit card has been compromised, it is too late.

May I suggest an RFID-blocking wallet? It saved my bank account debit card, my passport and my seaman’s book. Unfortunately, my credit card was loose in my pocket.

Yacht chefs should be particularly vigilant when it comes to shopping in town. Smart thieves will see your yacht uniform and know you are headed into town with money. Keep it close to your body, not dangling off a shoulder in a purse. When you pay, be discreet handing money over, or even holding a credit card out too long. Bad guys can take a photo of it for their nefarious intent.

On the subject of credit cards, don’t give away a pin number if the card reader is not working, try to avoid handing your card to a cashier, and certainly don’t let it leave your sight.

Once the purchase is over, look over your receipt before you leave the store. You may discover that the cashier has charged twice for an item, or perhaps charged for an item you didn’t buy. If you wait to review the receipt back onboard, who among us would take the tender back to shore to fight a $7 overcharge?

This habit of checking receipts is handy with deliveries, too. Provisioners have been known to stack up deliveries to several yachts on one bill for drop shipping. Check that all shipping charges on your bill are for your orders only.

While you are scouring the bill, check to make sure your food costs are in line with what you expected. Don’t be afraid to call your provisioner and ask them what the actual cost is.

Don’t get items shipped into a foreign port and then try to pick it up at customs without a bill of laden and a receipt from the provisioner. I had a case of filets confiscated by customs agents because of this.

To avoid criminals who may target yacht crew, be aware of your surroundings. Dress differently, like a local. Don’t make yourself so obvious. Or have supplies delivered to the marina where you are docked.

And most importantly, don’t go out by yourself in a foreign port. Does anyone remember Chef Sara Kuszak? She went jogging alone near a marina in Puerto Rico in 2009 and was murdered. She was a friend of mine, and she had just gotten to the island, waiting for her fiance to come to the yacht.

Our best defense against crime is to stick together and be constantly aware of our surroundings. Don’t be fooled by escorts who offer to take you around. Most will take you to stores they get kickbacks from. Do some research and decide where you want to go.

Don’t get distracted by strangers or get caught up in the tourist awe of a place. Be aware of pickpockets. Keep everything on the inside of your clothing. Avoid long straps on purses (even cross-body bags) or backpacks. Long straps are easily slashed. Several travel sites, like www.travelsmith.com, offer non-slashable bags and RFID wallets.

Finally, learn some self defense moves. These classes are often taught for free by local police agencies and they might just save your life. Stay safe.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Contact her through www.the-triton.com/author/chefmarybethlawtonjohnson.

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