Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
Ah, vacation. Just the thought of hitting the road or stepping on that plane can elicit feelings of anticipation and relaxation. After all, you’re about to leave the stress of everyday life behind and embark on a journey of discovery — hopefully one overflowing with new experiences and happy memories.
Unfortunately, settling into a relaxing routine, letting your guard down and traveling with sensitive personal and financial documents can leave you open to identity theft. What can you do to protect your information? Consider the following steps before and during your trip.
Before You Leave
Credit reporting bureau TransUnion offers several suggestions for steps you can take to protect yourself before you leave home:
Let your banks and credit-card issuers know that you’re going to be traveling. IDentity Theft 911 (IDT911) advises that you give financial institutions a heads-up, as well as specific dates, locations and a phone number where you can be reached. That way, they can contact you about any possible suspicious activity if necessary.
Put a hold on your mail. Let the U.S. Post Office keep it for you rather than letting it pile up in your mailbox or on your front steps.
Make photocopies of all important documents — passports, driver’s licenses, credit cards — and emergency contact information for the various organizations to expedite the replacement process if anything is lost or stolen. Keep one set of documents in a separate piece of luggage, and keep one set at home with a friend or family member.
Leave traveling references off social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, IDT911 says. Don’t let potential thieves know you
Take care of bills beforehand. If you pay bills the old-fashioned way, pay them before you leave. If you pay them online, schedule automatic payments; that way, you won’t have to access your accounts — and sensitive information — via a wifi connection or public computer.
Use bringing travelers checks — or cash — to minimize credit card use. When you pay cash for meals and bar tabs, there’s no opportunity for anyone to take advantage of your information, as the Identity Theft Resource Center points out. Also, although ATMs are convenient, you can be vulnerable to “skimming” (thieves have been known to install devices that record your information).
Weed out your wallet. Kiplinger suggests you only take those items that are absolutely essential for your trip.
Keep your luggage confidential. Don’t put your full name and address on your luggage tags, IdentityProtection.com says. Simply list your last name and phone number.
Protect your electronics. IdentityProtection.com advises that, if you haven’t already, set up a password for smartphone access, and install a GPS locator application to find the phone if it’s stolen. And update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your laptop.
While You’re There
After you’ve prepared for your trip, make sure to remain vigilant while you’re away with these tips.
Always use the hotel safe. IDT 911 founder Adam Levin told Fox Business that travelers should never leave anything of value, or any private information, out and easily accessible. If you prefer to carry all your important items, the Identity Theft Resource Center suggests using an inside zippered pocket, or a travel wallet that can be worn inside your clothing with the zippers facing inward.
Watch what you throw away. Kiplinger says to avoid putting the following items in hotel or public trash cans: boarding passes, flight itineraries or car-rental receipts. Shred the documents at your hotel or take them home with you.
Use bank ATMs. If you decide to use your debit card at an ATM, Kiplinger suggests finding a machine that’s attached to a bank. These ATMS offer more security than stand-alone machines, which are vulnerable to the aforementioned “skimming.” Fox Business also notes that stand-alone machines may be monitored with hidden cameras.
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