Don’t become an ID theft victim when you travel — here’s how

ID theft can be stopped before you leave your home. But what happens when you’re already on the road?

Although there are no reliable statistics on ID theft that happens while people travel, we know it happens. Here are a few tips for keeping your personal information safe:

1. Beware of public computers.

Many restaurants, bars, hotels and other establishments worldwide offer Wi-Fi Internet connections, sometimes even for free, so travelers can connect with their smartphones, tablets and laptops. However, we can’t always use our own devices; for example, when we’re on the road and printing online purchased tickets or airline boarding passes. In such cases, we sometimes use public computers, such as those in hotel business centers. When using them, don’t allow passwords and the information you type to be saved on the computer. Delete your browser history and cookies, and consider using Chrome incognito mode, or IE InPrivate Browsing. Never check your credit card or bank accounts on a public computer. Do that with your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

2. Beware of unsecured networks.

Wi-Fi makes Internet access while traveling easy and convenient, but it may make you vulnerable to hackers. Many Wi-Fi networks are unsecured, which makes spying on you through the networks easy. Wi-Fi network spoofing, in which you connect unknowingly to a rogue network, is far more easily accomplished when the network you access is unsecured. Use your laptop’s firewall on any network while traveling.

3. Minimize giving out your phone number.

You typically must give out your phone number when making hotel or other reservations, but whenever possible, avoid giving it out while traveling. When thieves get hold of a phone number, they can easily attempt to get other information such as credit card or bank account numbers via scam calls.

4. Use your credit card carefully and watch out for debit card use.

It’s fine to use your credit card at airports, most hotels, well-known restaurants and shops, but if you’re in an out-of-the-way place, especially if they want to take your card to the “back room,” use cash.

5. Be wary of ATM usage — Be careful using an ATM while traveling. I stick to ones at banks, even though they’re often inconvenient, because they’re less likely to be hacked. ATM’s can have attached skimmers or can be fake units. A skimmer is an attachment to legitimate ATMs that steals your card information and PIN number. It may be hard to believe, but there are also fake ATMs. In 2013, Brian Krebs wrote about a fake ATM in Curitiba, Brazil. You can use ATM locators from Visa and Mastercard to find legitimate ATM locations.

6. Check your credit card and bank statements regularly while traveling.

It doesn’t take much to kill your credit rating. Someone opening a credit card account in your name or running up your account balance can really hurt. Someone cleaning out your bank accounts via your debit card can ruin your vacation. The easiest way to cut off those problems before they become disasters is by monitoring your credit card and bank statements and your credit score while traveling. Another help I’ve found is Apple Pay. Apple Pay displays each transaction from one of my credit cards on my iPhone immediately after it’s charged. It lets me spot fraudulent charges in real time so I can contact my credit card company to stop the unauthorized use. Not an Apple fanboy? Consider Google wallet.

7. Lock up your valuables, including travel documents.

I know room safes and hotel safes aren’t perfect, but they’re better for stowing your valuables and documents than leaving them on the room chest or in your pockets or bag.

8. Be wary of pickpockets, who aren’t just looking for your cash and credit cards.

Pickpockets are found in most major cities, generally working high tourist traffic areas. In addition to your cash and credit cards, they’re looking to steal your identity. Travelers should use travel pouches and money belts to secure their cash, cards and IDs, including their passports. If given the chance, thieves will also steal your unsecured phones, tablets and laptops. Pay attention for shoulder surfers. When you’re talking on your cell phone, don’t say anything the person behind your shoulder can overhear and use against you.

9. Use public restrooms with intelligence.

That means don’t hang your purse or bag of belongings from the hook on the door, because it’s too easy to grab.

Here’s one final tip for once you’re home safe:

10. Shred your travel documents.

Protecting your identity continues once you’ve returned home from your vacation or business trip. Copies of travel documents you’re throwing out should be shredded or at least torn to shreds, since they often have critical identifying information in them. If you’re like me, you keep your boarding passes from every trip until you’re sure you’ve gotten credit for each flight. But once you don’t need them anymore, destroy them. Brian Krebs reports the easily read bar and QR codes on boarding passes contain your name, frequent flyer number and other personally identifiable information.

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About the Author
Ned Levi has traveled the world as an engineer and business executive. He is the founder of NSL Associates, a technology consulting company, and is a professional photographer specializing in travel and wildlife photography.
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