Prevent identity theft on vacation

5 tips to protect yourself when you're on the road

Published: July 07, 2015 03:45 PM

While you’re on vacation, identity thieves are hard at work. They wait for you to let your guard down and before you realize it, your wallet has been stolen or your email account hacked and your personal information has been compromised.

Identity theft on the road is more common than you think. A recent study by ProtectMyID, the identity theft protection unit of credit bureau Experian, found that 20 percent of consumers have had a driver’s license, passport, credit card or other document with personal information lost or stolen while traveling. Nearly 40 percent have had their identity stolen as a result—or know of someone who was similarly victimized.

Thieves strike when you least expect it, according to the ProtectMyID study. While 19 percent of travelers feel most vulnerable in restaurants—and rightly so, since 18 percent of crimes occur when people are dining out—most identity theft crimes actually occur in hotels (24 percent).

Here’s how to make sure thieves don’t ruin your vacation.

For more information on this subject, read 11 easy ways to prevent identity theft while traveling. 

Cull your credit cards

You probably spend a lot of time trying to lighten your luggage load. Take equal care with what’s in your wallet. According to the ProtectMyID survey, 47 percent of travelers do not remove unnecessary credit cards from their wallet before leaving for a trip. Even worse, 25 percent travel with their Social Security cards.

Our advice: Bring only the essentials, including a limited number of credit and debit cards. You may also want to set up a travel alert for your credit card accounts, especially if you will be traveling internationally. Leave your Social Security card at home. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, thieves won’t have all of your personal information.

Beware of Wi-Fi hotspots

You may feel secure in the privacy of your hotel room but hackers can infiltrate hotel Wi-Fi networks to steal guests’ passwords and other sensitive information. A typical scam: When you log into the hotel’s network, a pop-up for a software update appears. But if you click to accept the download, you unknowingly load software designed to damage your computer or steal your information.

Our advice: Use encrypted networks or a virtual private network (VPN) to access personal accounts through public Wi-Fi networks. A VPN encrypts all of the information that passes between you and a wireless network, wherever that network is located. You can download VPN software from a VPN provider or bring your own mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Avoid public computers

The public computer in a hotel, hostel or Internet cafe may be convenient if you’re traveling without your laptop, but using one leaves you vulnerable—big time. That’s because you have no idea what has been installed in the computer. Risks include key-logging software that remembers your username and password, out-of-date security updates, and insufficient anti-virus software.

Our advice: If you must use a public computer, use it only for innocuous purposes, such as researching restaurant options or museum opening times. Do not check your online bank account or enter any personal financial information. Even checking your email or posting to Facebook can be risky, so make sure to reset your password from a secure device as soon as possible.

Choose your ATMs carefully

The convenience of getting cash often outweighs caution and that’s exactly what identity thieves count on. Crooks plant skimmers in ATMs and in a matter of seconds can steal your PIN and the account data stored on your card’s magnetic stripe.

Our advice: Go to ATMs that are monitored by video cameras or security guards, such as those in bank lobbies. Avoid unattended ATMs in public locations like airports, shopping malls or convenience stores. 

Pick what you post

That brag-shot of you bungee-jumping off a bridge in New Zealand not only tells the world about your daredevil deeds—it also informs crooks that you’re not home. Thieves troll Facebook, MySpace, Instagram and other social networking sites to see when people are on vacation and possibly target their home for a break-in.

Our advice: Take the shot, by all means. But don’t post it until you’re back home.

“Vacations give people the perfect chance to stop thinking about everyday life, but that’s something identity thieves count on” to make it easier to snatch your stuff, says Guy Abramo, president, Experian Consumer Services. “By taking some precautions before, during and after vacation, people can reduce the risk of identity theft happening to them.”

Catherine Fredman

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