It’s exactly what you needed—a chance to get away and relax. But even when you’re on vacation, it’s important to protect yourself from scammers and identity thieves. Below are five tips to keep your data safe on your next trip:
1. Steer clear of travel scams
Travel-related fraud can happen before you even leave the house. We know that credit card fraud is particularly problematic in the travel industry. One popular scam according to the Federal Trade Commission is rental listing scams. Scammers may make up listings for homes that don’t exist and post them on vacation rental websites. They might offer great deals in high-demand destinations, which can be tempting. Often, they’ll ask you to wire money, which is irreversible, before you’ve met or signed a contract.
Some fraudsters may create a fake but legitimate-looking site to try to trick unsuspecting travelers. This is also known as phishing. They may lure you in with the potential win a free vacation or the promise of a low rate. Their goal is to get your personal data, like credit card information.
If a deal seems too good to be true, it most likely is. It’s a good idea to comparison shop across multiple websites. This will give you a good idea of the prices at comparable properties. If a rental price seems suspiciously low, be wary.
Travel scams can impact even the most cautious consumers. But there are steps you can take to minimize the impact. If you do become a victim of identity theft, act quickly to protect your data identity.
2. Be cautious with public Wi-Fi
An easy way to keep your valuable personal data out of the hands of identity thieves is to practice safe browsing habits when using public W-Fi. You may need to use your hotel or other public Wi-Fi to check in on things back home or keep track of your itinerary. However, since many public Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t secure, it can be easier for thieves to capture your data.
Make sure you aren’t entering any valuable information like credit card numbers into websites while browsing publicly. This includes mobile use and with your Bluetooth-enabled devices. Using a virtual private network (VPN), many of which offer encryption, can be handy when traveling. Additionally, if you’re using a laptop, consider purchasing a privacy screen to keep a shoulder surfer’s eyes off your information.
3. Keep important documents safe but separate
You’re likely traveling with important documents like government IDs, boarding passes and the like. When in transit, keep them in a secure spot on you or in a bag you carry at all times, and never leave them unattended. It may be smart to keep them in separate places. For instance, keep one item in your jacket pocket and another in your backpack or carry-on bag. This way if one item is lost or stolen, you won’t be missing all your documents.
Also, never carry your Social Security card with you. This is one of your most valuable pieces of personal data, and you won’t need it as a form of ID when traveling. When you arrive at your destination, place your important and valuable items in the safe if there is one. Extra cash, credit cards and IDs you don’t need should always be kept in the safe if you can.
Should a credit card or document be lost or stolen, report it immediately. Contact your bank to put a stop to transactions and close the card. If you lose your passport while traveling abroad, the U.S. Department of State urges travelers to contact the nearest U.S. embassy immediately, as you will need a replacement before being allowed to return to the United States. If your ID is lost or stolen while traveling domestically, you may still be able to fly without one. The Transportation Security Administration provides directions should this happen.
4. Get prepared before you leave
Some of the best preventative measures can be taken before you’ve left for your trip. Try to pay all upcoming bills before you go so you don’t need to use public Wi-Fi to do so. You can also clean out your wallet to limit the number of credit or debit cards you’re carrying with you. Having a main card for purchases along with a backup you keep in the safe is probably sufficient.
If traveling internationally, try to get foreign currency ahead of time. This can help you avoid those pesky international ATM fees and be a safeguard against fraud that can occur at ATMs. Skimmers, which thieves mount over card slots in ATMs, can steal your card information. If you must, use an ATM from a major bank or one in a high-traffic area when traveling. These are more likely to have surveillance, making them less likely targets for fraudsters.
Another essential trip preparation is to make copies of your important documents. Having copies of your travel documents and credit cards can make replacing them much easier. Just be sure to never store the copies in the same place as the original. Storing pictures of them on your phone can help, but if your phone is lost or stolen, having physical copies will be necessary.
5. Consider freezing your credit
A credit freeze is a proactive step in protecting your data identity. Should your data end up in the wrong hands, a credit freeze can help prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. You can add a freeze at any time. It’s free to do and doesn’t impact your credit score.
Taking reasonable precautions with your personal information is smart no matter the occasion. You’re likely doing a lot to plan for your trip, and adding more steps can seem like a challenge. But vacation is a time to explore and relax, so it’s a small price to pay ahead of time to gain some peace of mind.
To learn how to detect fraudulent websites and emails, read our blog post on how to spot and avoid phishing scams.