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Recovering from identity theft when you're at home is hard enough. But when you're traveling, dealing with lost documents, fraudulent accounts and endless customer service calls can be extra frustrating and even ruin your vacation. Follow these seven suggestions for keeping your personal information and money safe.
1. Set up a Mail Hold
Mail theft is on the rise, and criminals might want to break into your mailbox when you're out of town. Inside, they could find all sorts of statements, checks and other information they could use to steal your identity. Rather than worrying, you can have the USPS hold your mail for up to 30 days. They will keep your packages and letters at a nearby post office, and you can safely pick them up once you're home. If you plan to be gone longer than 30 days, USPS offers mail forwarding.
2. Only Take and Carry What You Need
You might want or need to bring your driver's license or identification card, good travel credit cards, prescriptions, insurance cards and potentially your passport. However, leave your Social Security card, birth certificate and any other documents that have personal information at home. (Also beware of passport scams if you're ordering a new passport for an upcoming trip.)
When you arrive at your destination, you may also want to be strategic about what you carry on you during your day-to-day adventures. Having some cash and a credit card handy might be convenient, but you can leave other items locked in your hotel's safe or hidden in the room. Or carry them in a safer place on your body, such as a hidden wallet or sash.
3. Increase Your Phone's Locking Speed
Most people use some sort of password, gesture or a face or fingerprint scan to unlock their device. If you don't have one of these turned on, here's your warning that you definitely should, especially while traveling.
You also might want to review your phone's settings for how long it takes for the phone to automatically lock (when the screen turns off). A shorter auto-lock time could be helpful in case someone steals your phone from your pocket, wallet or table.
4. Update Your Devices and Be Cautious on Public Wi-Fi
Connecting to a public Wi-Fi network can be risky, especially if you don't know who set up the network in the first place. Updating all your devices can help ensure that they have the latest security patches in place. You can also enable HTTPS by default in your internet browsers, which will encrypt the information you send online, such as usernames and passwords.
If you think you might use a public Wi-Fi network, you can look for a free or low-cost virtual private network (VPN) app for your laptop, phone or other mobile device. However, you may want to double-check your travel destinations' laws before installing one because VPNs are legal in most places, but not everywhere.
Using a VPN might be superfluous if you already have a secure connection, so you may want to learn more about the pros and cons before investing in a subscription. VPNs aren't a foolproof option, so it's still important to be cautious about what websites you visit and information you send.
A safer route is to get a data plan for your phone and then use your phone as a hotspot if you need to connect another device. Or, use your phone's cellular data to check email, pay bills and do anything else that requires sensitive information.
5. Enable Multifactor Authentication
Multifactor authentication (MFA) is a security measure that you can often turn on for your online accounts. When enabled, in addition to your username and password, you'll be prompted to use a second form of authentication, such as a code sent to your phone or email, a fingerprint or face scan, or a code generated by an authentication app.
Enabling MFA can help keep identity thieves and other criminals from logging in to your accounts, even if they're able to get ahold of your username and password. Some companies automatically enable it in certain circumstances anyway—such as when you're prompted to enter a code you're texted because you're logging in from a new device or location. But proactively turning on MFA can be important even when you're not traveling.
6. Beware of Shoulder Surfers
It isn't just the technical identity theft threats you need to worry about; someone might be able to steal your personal information by looking over your shoulder when you're on your phone or laptop. They could even get your PIN when you enter it at an ATM or payment terminal.
To protect yourself from shoulder surfers, try to position your body or hand in a way that keeps others from seeing when you type your PIN. You could also buy and install a privacy screen on your laptop or mobile device, which can keep people who aren't directly behind the device from seeing what's on your screen.
Using unique passwords on all your accounts—a password manager can help you keep them all straight—could also deter a shoulder surfer who watches you enter the password for one account from using it to break into your others.
7. Don't Let Others Know You're out of Town
An empty house might attract burglars who could steal your valuables—and your valuable personal information. Even if you have strict privacy settings on your social media accounts, you might want to hold off on posting anything about your trip until you're back home. You could also set up timers or smart switches to turn lights on and off, making it seem like someone is at home the entire time.
Monitor Your Identity and Credit While Traveling
Keeping an eye on your credit report can help you quickly notice if someone applies for or opens a new credit account in your name, and you can sign up for free credit monitoring from Experian. There are also comprehensive identity monitoring and protection programs, such as Experian IdentityWorksSM, that monitor additional databases for your personal information. With IdentityWorks Premium and Family plans, you also receive lost wallet assistance, dedicated fraud resolution support and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.