Taking a trip for business or pleasure can involve a lot of planning. One item you should have on your to-do list — taking steps to help protect yourself from identity theft while on the road.
Whether your travels involve a road trip or an international flight, it makes sense to help keep the identity thieves at bay while you’re away. They’re always looking for an opportunity to grab personal information. There’s no sense making it easy for them to do so, whether at home or while traveling.
Check out these 10 tips to help make your travel a little less risky when it comes to identity theft.
What to do before you leave
1. Call your bank and credit card companies.
Letting your financial institutions know when and where you’re traveling can make things easier for you. You don’t want your bank or lender to decline your debit or credit card because you’re making a transaction in an unexpected location. Some financial institutions have online forms if calling isn’t convenient.
2. Stop mail delivery to your home.
Rather than having your mail pile up, it may make sense for you to pause mail delivery while you’re away, particularly if you’ll be gone for an extended period of time. Your mail can include a variety of documents with sensitive personal information that could be used to steal your identity. At the very least, make sure you have a secure mailbox that can’t be accessed by passers-by.
3. Clean out your wallet.
To minimize the risk of lost credit cards and other items you typically carry with you, review what’s in your wallet before you depart. This may also help you assess what you typically carry on a day-to-day basis. One primary credit card and a backup may be enough. And make sure you’re not carrying your Social Security card. It’s high on the list of your information that an identity thief would likely want.
4. Pay your bills before you leave home.
It might seem like a good idea to catch up on your bills while relaxing in your hotel room, but think twice. Consider who might have access to your room and, with it, the personal information on those bills. You might also be tempted to discard those documents in the hotel room trash can when they should be shredded first.
5. Leave your travel plans off social media.
No one wants to return to a burgled home. Posts to social networking sites can result in your information going beyond family and friends. Better to share your travel plans with loved ones directly and not announce it on social media where it could end up in the wrong hands. For the same reason, it also makes sense to save posting those great photos of you on the beach until you’re back home.
6. Use a carry-on appropriately.
Think of all the sensitive items you take with you on vacation. These may include cash, tickets, credit cards and more. Where’s the safest place to carry these? A carry-on bag or purse might not be as secure as you think, since it might not always be under your control. You may want to put these items in several places on your person — so losing, say, a wallet, doesn’t mean you’ve lost everything.
7. Use the hotel safe.
As you travel around your destination city, you should store your driver’s license, tickets, excess cash and backup credit card in the hotel safe. That way, an encounter with a pickpocket won’t leave you empty-handed. Also, don’t leave sensitive documents or unprotected devices lying around your room while you’re out and about.
8. Have good habits when using debit and credit cards.
• Try to use ATMs at local banks. Machines at bars, restaurants and other locations may be more easily tampered with by fraudsters hoping to steal your debit or credit card’s data.
• Avoid making card transactions on public computers, even in hotel business centers. Keyloggers and other malware may make your personal data vulnerable.
• Try not to let your payment cards out of sight at restaurants and other locations. It’s easy for an unscrupulous worker to quickly take a picture or write down your card information.
• If the hotel front desk calls your room, asking for a credit card number or other personal information, don’t provide it over the phone. Pay a visit to the front desk to make sure the request is legitimate.
9. Be careful when using public Wi-Fi.
It’s not unusual for criminals to try to eavesdrop on public Wi-Fi networks. And even password-protected Wi-Fi networks are only as safe as the people who have the passwords, which are often freely available. It’s best to not make transactions while on public Wi-Fi. If you must, use a virtual private network, or VPN, to encrypt your data.
10. Don’t hesitate to act.
If you do lose any important documents, report the loss immediately. Contact your bank and credit card companies to cancel payment cards, and, if possible, monitor your statements online for unfamiliar activity.
Things to pay attention to while abroad
The tips noted above also apply when traveling abroad, but you have to factor in one additional, critical document – your passport. You’ll need it to return to the U.S. and it may be required at border entry points and when checking into hotels. Passports are a hot commodity for thieves, who routinely look for them in back pockets, particularly in airports. Criminals can use your passport to steal your identity.
If your passport is lost or stolen while traveling overseas, report the loss immediately to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The folks there can help you obtain a replacement.
No one can protect you against all identity theft, but doing what you can to help protect your personal information can make your travels, as well as your return home, a lot less stressful and much more enjoyable.