Dear Sun Spots: When I travel, I use traveler’s checks. After my trips, my bank encourages me to keep any of the checks I may have left over for future use and save the 1 percent fee. But what if the traveler’s check company goes bankrupt? Would I be an unsecured creditor or, worse yet, have no recourse at all?

Please check with the experts. Are traveler’s checks only as safe as the company that issues them? – Elmer F., No Town.

Answer:
Sun Spots would encourage you to use your ATM card while abroad since it gives a better saving and does away with the need of carrying so much cash on hand. Your money will be expended by the machine in foreign currency.

According to www.frommers.com, ATMs have made traveler’s checks all but obsolete. But if you still prefer the security of traveler’s checks over carrying cash (and you don’t mind showing identification every time you want to cash one), you can get them at almost any bank, paying a service charge that usually ranges from 1 percent to 7 percent. The following are reputable and well-known companies, which have been around many years, that you may be interested in:

American Express offers denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500 and (for cardholders only) $1,000. You can also get American Express traveler’s checks online at www.americanexpress.com or over the phone by calling 800-221-7282; by using this number, Amex gold and platinum cardholders are exempt from the 1 percent fee.

Visa offers traveler’s checks at Citibank locations nationwide, as well as at several other banks. The service charge is between 1.5 percent and 2 percent; checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1,000. Call 800-732-1322 for information.

MasterCard also offers traveler’s checks. Call 800-223-9920 for a location near you.

AAA members can obtain checks without a fee at most AAA offices. (AAA has a downtown Washington office at 701 15th St. NW, not far from the White House.)

Dear Sun Spots: Thank you for an ever helpful column. Can you please find a reliable resource to answer these questions?

How are we to avoid carrying our Social Security number with us?

Day after day we read that we should not keep it in our wallets; by the same token, my new Medicare card indicates I should keep it with me at all times … and guess what the number is? I have a habit of being careful in releasing the number. Do you have a suggestion?

I find it equally upsetting to discover one’s name, address and map to one’s home on the Internet. What can be done about that? – No Name, No Town.

Answer:
Sun Spots talked with Michael Burke, the district manager at the Social Security office in Augusta, who says there’s no obligation for you to carry your Social Security card around with you. Burke says the real purpose of the card and number is to verify employment and for tax purposes. You can memorize your number and keep your card in a safe place at home until you need to provide it to an employer or for tax purposes.

Sun Spots also spoke with the Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Family Independence here in Lewiston, which says you need to carry your Medicare card with you because if you were involved in an accident and needed treatment, the Medicare card is your proof of medical insurance, if you will.

Regarding your name, address and map being on the Internet, Sun Spots is unsure how you can go about removing that, especially if your name, address and phone number are in the phone book. Perhaps other readers have some hints here and would be willing to share them with you.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be posted at www.sunjournal.com in the Inform Us section under Press Release.


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