Summer travelers are worried about terrorism, Zika and a Trump presidency, but maybe they should look a little closer for the real threat.
Maybe they should look in a mirror.
“Travelers leave their laptop open and unlocked while they go to the bar or bathroom,” says security strategist Ben Johnson. “They read off credit card and passport numbers over the phone, in public.”
A survey by Experian revealed nearly one in five travelers lost sensitive information on the road, and 30% said they experienced identity theft while traveling or know someone who has. It gets worse if you cross a border. International travelers are 1 1/2 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than domestic travelers, a LifeLock study found.
The consequences of their carelessness can be immediate and catastrophic. Travelers are quick to blame everyone but themselves for data loss or ID theft. The app had a security flaw! The Wi-Fi network wasn’t secure! There were strangers overhearing my conversation in the hotel lobby! But this summer, the best way to stay safe lies within.
What to do? Easy. Just observe your fellow travelers and learn from their mistakes.
Johnson, a former NSA employee who co-founded the security consulting firm Carbon Black, has seen travelers carelessly log onto a wireless network that may not have been the hotel’s official one (yes, they let him watch). He’s even seen hotel guests leave electronics, such as laptops and USB keys, in their room, leaving their most sensitive information vulnerable to theft.
Patti Reddi witnessed some pretty outrageous things, too. Like posting a photo of your boarding pass on social media. Duh. “Your boarding pass contains sensitive information like your frequent-flier number, record locator and more,” says Reddi, who writes a travel blog. Plus, there’s no better way of tipping off a thief that you’re not home than with a confirmed boarding pass that says, “I’m away.”
The lack of attention can hurt you. Jaclyn Goldman met a man at a hotel bar who was sobbing uncontrollably. What happened? Goldman, a sales executive, says the man had given two women his last name and room number.
“They racked up a $1,000 bar bill,” she remembers. “And then they disappeared.”
Jesse Harrison recalls the time his business partner committed a similar error at a car rental counter. When asked for a phone number, he used a loud and clear voice to give it to the counter agent. Maybe a little too loud.
“Later that day, we got a call from someone claiming to be the car rental company, saying they are going to report us to the police because we stole something from the car rental company when we picked up the car,” recalls Harrison, who works for a legal services company in Los Angeles. “How did they know our information? My guess is someone heard my partner’s phone number and decided to prank us.”
The solution to these security woes is surprisingly simple: Don’t shout out your phone number or credit card number in public. Don’t leave your electronics where they can be stolen. Don’t tweet your itinerary.
In other words, don’t be your own worst enemy when you travel this summer.
What not to do when you travel
• Don’t connect to an open Wi-Fi network. “Anybody can connect to them, and there could be traps set up to trick you, sneakily labeled hotel Wi-Fi, free Wi-Fi and airport Wi-Fi,” says Paul Paget, the chief executive of Pwnie Express, a security consulting firm.
• Don’t plug into any old power outlet. Daniel Smith, an information security researcher for Radware, says one of the biggest mistakes travelers make is placing their trust in random mobile power stations. Seriously. “By plugging your device into a power station you’re risking your devices data via Juice jacking,” he says. Only use a power plug you trust.
• Don’t forget to change your password. At the end of your trip, switch to a different password, experts recommend. Why? Many Wi-Fi networks and public internet connections can be leveraged to sniff passwords and user IDs of everything you did while traveling. Why give them access to your information when you return?