Taking a trip, whether for business or pleasure, involves a lot of planning. Be sure one more thing makes it onto your itinerary — protecting yourself from identity theft. Here are 10 steps you can take to avoid losing your identity while you're on the road.
Before You Leave
1. Call your bank and credit card companies. Corporate Travel Safety, an online seller of travel security and safety products, suggests you tell your credit card companies when and where you are going to be traveling. “Most institutions are happy to monitor your accounts, as they do not want to be liable for any stolen sums,” the company advises. 2. Stop mail. Having a neighbor collect your mail isn’t safe enough, according to Corporate Travel Safety. Visit your local post office and put a stop on your mail—which could include Social Security statements, pay stubs, credit card statements and many other sensitive documents—until you return. 3. Clean out your wallet. Leave at home wallet contents that are not absolutely necessary, including cards with Social Security numbers on them. 4. Pay your bills before you leave. You may think it might be nice to catch up with bills in your hotel room, but don’t do it. There are many people who have access to your room and the personal information on those bills. 5. Don’t tell the world you’re traveling. Social networking sites can leave you vulnerable to unscrupulous acquaintances of people you know, so don’t announce that you're leaving home for an extended time, and save posting those great photos of you on the beach until you’re back home.
While You’re Gone
6. Carry on. When you travel, you usually need sensitive documents, such as a passport, tickets and itinerary, traveler's checks, a driver's license, reservation information, travel insurance details and credit cards, points out the US Travel Insurance Association. What’s the safest place to carry these? On your person using a security belt. A carry-on bag and purse don’t offer as much security because you don’t always have them under your control, says USTIA. "The point is that your carry-on is often physically separated from you, and that means it is less safe for storing anything you really can't afford to lose." 7. Use the hotel safe. When you can’t carry everything with you, store your passport, tickets, excess cash and credit cards in the hotel safe. Do not leave ID-related documents loose in your room while you’re out. 8. Credit card control.
- Be aware when using an ATM. Use an inside machine whenever possible.
- Avoid using your credit card number on public computers unless you are sure it's a secure site and your information is removed before the session ends.
- Watch credit card transactions completely to notice if anyone is writing down your number or photographing your card.
- Never provide your credit card number over the phone, even to hotel staff members. Instead, go to the front desk and ask for a valid reason why it’s needed.
9. Use RFID protection. Many credit cards have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in them, which makes using them easier—and stealing them easier too, according to Corporate Travel Safety. High-tech scammers can retrieve that information and use it for fraudulent activities. Consider using an RFID-protecting wallet, handbag or case. 10. Act fast. If you do lose any important documents, report it immediately. Contact your credit card companies to cancel the cards, and alert credit reporting agencies. If your driver’s license goes missing, file a report with local police. “The U.S. Transportation Security Administration and airline representatives stress the importance of this step, which creates a paper trail and pinpoints the loss at a specific time and place," according to Fodors.com.
If your passport is lost or stolen while traveling overseas report it immediately to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, says the State Department. They can help you get a replacement. You also should report the incident to the local police. For more on how to report identity theft, visit the U.S. Department of Justice's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force at www.stopfraud.gov.