Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Smart Traveler's Guide to Preventing Identity Theft

Whether you’re planning a business trip across the globe or traveling with your family on a much-needed vacation, identity theft is not just something you hear on TV or the Internet. It’s very real – and if you don’t take the proper precautions, it could ruin what should be a fun trip to a new destination.

According to an article in Technorati, more than 11.6 million Americans fell victim to identity theft during 2011, a 13 percent rise from the previous year. We’ve put together some quick tips to consider before you leave – and while you’re traveling - so the same thing doesn’t happen to you!


Before you leave….

  • When booking tickets, use a credit card. Credit card companies can help you fight fraudulent charges and some even provide travel insurance that will protect you in case of lost baggage, cancelled flights, etc. When dealing with travel, it’s much safer than a debit card.
  • DON’T use social media sites to tell people you’re leaving town. Think twice before you post a Facebook update or tweet. The last thing you need is for all of your Facebook friends to know you’ll be out of town for an extended period of time.
  • Make two copies of your passport and driver’s license. Store one with a family member at home and carry one with you while you’re traveling so you have proof of identity in case your real documents get stolen.
  • Leave checks at home. Instead, rely on debit and credit cards for payment - and, it’s best if you only carry two or three with you. Credit card companies will work with you to clear up any fraudulent charges - but once money is gone from your checking account, it’s usually just gone.
  • Call your credit card company. Let them know exactly where you’ll be traveling and how long you’ll be away. Credit card representatives are taught to be very aware of unusual activity and may put a freeze on your account if they don’t know you’re traveling.
  • Note: If your bank calls to let you know of fraudulent activity, make sure to call the customer service number provided on the back of your card – even if they leave a specific number on a message. This will help you ensure you’re getting in contact with the right person. Which brings us to the next point…
  • Make a list of important phone numbers. Spend a few minutes putting together a list of phone numbers for your credit card companies, home bank, travel agent, travel insurance contact, and anything else you may need while on the road.
  • Put your mail on postal hold. Tell the postal service you’d like them to hold your mail for X days. This is better than “vacation hold” so clerks won’t know you’re away.
  • Have a “check in” buddy. Ask a friend or family member to check in on your house (and maybe even spend a little time there) while you’re gone. It’s important for outsiders to see activity in your home so they don’t know you’re gone for an extended amount of time.
  • Stop newspaper and other regular deliveries. Nothing screams “we’re gone!” than a pile of newspapers or other goods on your doorstep. It’s also helpful to have a neighbor remove advertisements and fliers from your door.
  • Remove the following items from your purse or wallet and put them in a fire-proof safe:
    • Checkbook and deposit slips (you don’t want someone getting ahold of your bank account info).
    • Birth certificate
    • Social Security card
    • Bills with proof of address
    • Credit card receipts
The above tips are a great help while you’re preparing for your travels, so be sure to take this list and double-check it before you leave home. And now that your “pre-trip” is covered, there are some things you should know for during your trip – so keep on reading!

While you’re traveling…

  • Carry your passport with you or in your carry-on luggage. In case your luggage is lost or delayed, it’s best if you have your important documents on you.
  • Most hotel rooms have a safe, so take advantage of it. Before you leave to tour the city, put your passport and other valuables in your hotel safe. Take only what you need for your daily activities.
  • Don’t type passwords unless you’re on a secure network. If you plan to access important information like your bank account (or anything else confidential), do so only while you’re on a secure network that requires a password for access.
  • If you’re not using Bluetooth, turn it off. Some thieves can “hack” into your phone through Bluetooth so if you’re not actively using it, turn it off!
  • Protect your pockets, wallet, and purse. When you’re out on the town, especially in a high-traffic area, take only the essentials and keep them close by. If your credit cards and phone are stored in your purse, keep your hand over it at all times. Otherwise, it’s very easy for someone to slip their hand into your bag and take what’s not theirs.
  • Guard your smartphone, too. With all of the apps available on a smartphone, they’re not just “phones” anymore. Keep your phone guarded at all times – because a thief could have their hands on your financial apps, business info, etc. in a matter of seconds.
  • Even better…use a money belt. Most sporting goods and department stores sell belts designed to keep your valuables close. Simply wear it underneath your shirt, valuables securely attached, and they’ll be much tougher for pickpockets to grab.
  • When using an ATM, watch your surroundings. It’s easy for someone to look over your shoulder, so watch behind you – or even better, use an indoor ATM. If you’re traveling with someone, have them stand near the ATM and shield you.
  • Use bank-owned ATMs. Sadly, there have been an increasing number of stolen account information and PINs from certain ATMs. For added security, use a bank-owned machine when you have the option.
And finally, there are a few tips you should always keep in mind to help protect you from identity theft wherever you are:
  • Monitor your bank account at least once a week to watch for suspicious charges. This goes double for the first week you're back from vacation!
  • Don’t give your credit card number over the phone. If the hotel staff or touring company asks for it, find out if you can give it in person or enter it securely online. If entering online, make sure you’re on a secure wireless connection.
  • Put a passcode on your phone. If you don’t have a passcode on your cell phone, go ahead and do that too. Many smartphones will “lock” after too many unsuccessful attempts at access.
  • Put a passcode and the latest security on your laptop. PCs have many anti-virus software programs to choose from, while Macs have programs like CleanMyMac that can help protect you against nasty viruses.
  • Turn on your phone’s GPS locator and “wipe” function (if available). Many phones have a setting you can turn on that helps you locate the phone via GPS if it’s stolen. Similarly, the “wipe” feature will let you wipe your data clean if it’s stolen.
  • Check your credit report (at least) yearly. You can get one free credit report per year from sites like Free Credit Report. Here’s why you should take advantage of it: Identity thieves can often take awhile to “pounce” so even if you’ve returned from your travels without an issue, they may scheme down the road.
Following these steps will help eliminate the risk for identity theft; but they’re not fail-safe. If you are the unfortunate victim of identity theft while traveling, stay calm and contact your credit card company immediately. You can also learn more about reporting identity theft from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Identity Theft Task Force.

Guest post by Valerie Cecil. 


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