As travelers rely more on technology during their trips as they use online maps for navigation, apps for hotels and discounts at restaurants and retailers and social media accounts to post photos and reviews, it's crucial to remember that identity thieves are often watching.
How to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling
While some travelers are more lackadaisical about what they are clicking on as they are looking up reviews of restaurants, hotels and sightseeing opportunities, be aware that hackers are following in your footsteps.
Here are 7 things that travelers should do to protect their identity as they are laying on the beach or traipsing through the ruins in Greece.
1. Contact Your Credit Card Issuer Before You Head Out Of Town
Call or go to your credit card or bank's website and let them know when and where you'll be traveling. This will alert them to the fact that you'll have charges elsewhere and keep you from having unexpected declines. It also helps them flag charges in other locations as potentially fraudulent.
2. Hold Your Mail
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offers a service where you can hold your mail for up to 30 days. Take advantage of this so you don't have to worry about someone else grabbing it for you or mail sitting in your mailbox where potential criminals can grab it and use your information against you.
3. Clean Out Your Wallet
Don't carry more than you need when you go on a trip. Keep a couple credit cards and a debit card along with some cash, but don't carry extra cards you don't use. You'll want to have a driver's license and Passport (if traveling internationally). You should never carry your Social Security card in your wallet at any time because your Social Security number is important personally identifiable information (PII) that is a gold mine for identity thieves.
3. Avoid Public Computers
While it is not always avoidable because you need to print out a boarding pass or a discounted ticket to enter an amusement park or museum, be extra careful when you're using a public computer like those offered in hotel lobbies or a cafe. The WiFi there is open for anyone to use, so hackers will be on the prowl. Do not save any of your passwords as you're filling out on forms, erase your history, and delete any saved files.
Remember to use the incognito mode in Google's Chrome browser by typing "Ctrl + Shift +N" so that your passwords and cookies will not be saved. You can also use private browsing on Firefox.
Avoid checking your bank account balance as hackers can also see that information. Instead, check your credit card or debit card charges from your bank or issuer's app on your smartphone.
4. Keep an Eye on Your Valuables
It's a good idea to minimize what you carry when you're exploring new spots on vacation. Pickpockets and thieves are everywhere and take advantage of tourists focused on the sites and not on their bags or purses. Keep anything you don't need locked in your hotel safe and make sure there aren't zippers or pockets other people could easily access your bags.
5. Not all ATMs Are the Same
Whenever you have to obtain cash, remember that all ATMs do not have the same amount of security. The best ATMs are those inside a building, such as a bank lobby. It is easy for hackers to add skimmers to ATMs or place fake kiosks, which can steal your PIN or other information. The risks of getting scammed at an ATM are much higher when there aren't people regularly monitoring them like those inside bars, restaurants, and bodegas.
6. Check Your Statements
When you get back to secure WiFi, check your credit card or bank statements to make sure fraudulent purchases were not made while you were hiking or on the beach. Secure networks require a password to log on or choose ones that have WEP, WPA or WPA2 networks.
7. Consider Adding a VPN
Installing a virtual private network (VPN) on both your smartphone and laptop makes any websites you visit encrypted. This means you have extra protection when you are using your bank app to check your balance or current purchases.
Travelers who not only check their email or social media accounts but also their bank balances, shop online or make hotel or plane reservations should be wary of being hacked. But taking some preventative measures means the odds of having your identity stolen are greatly decreased so that you can focus on sightseeing or heading to the next local hotspot.
What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen While Traveling
Continuing to sip mai tais on the beach may be tempting, but act fast if your identity has been compromised. Your first steps will depend on what information is stolen. If a credit card or debit card is stolen, contact your bank and credit card issuers right away so they can flag your cards and watch for any unusual activity.
Check your online accounts and statements for anything suspicious as well. You should also file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.
Read here for more details on what to do if your identity is stolen.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on May 31, 2018, and has been updated.