Over seven million people in the U.S. last year alone were victims of identity theft resulting in approximately fifty billion dollars of fraudulent credit card, bank, and other financial charges. A significant number of these victims were business travelers, people on their holidays, and tourists. Here is some valuable information that may save you lots of grief when you travel.
It’s very easy when people travel on their vacation to let their guard down. They have a lot of things on their minds trying to remember everything they need to take care of before they go and what they need to take with them on vacation. Not only that, they want to unwind, relax, and have fun. Isn’t that what vacations should be all about? When they travel they don’t want to have to be on guard all time and constantly concerned about getting ripped off every minute of their holidays.
There are three major sources of identity theft that you should be aware of when you travel. They are your wallet, your laptop or PDA, and internet cafes.
Research indicates most identity thefts occur when people’s wallets are stolen, usually by professional pick pockets. Whether you travel on vacation or business you must guard your wallet all of the time because you are at more risk than in familiar surroundings. Never ever carry your wallet in your back pocket – it’s not called the “sucker pocket” for nothing. It is best to carry your wallet in a fanny pack. Some travelers recommend a fanny pack with a Velcro closure instead of a zippered one because you can hear it being opened. The usual places you’re likely find pickpockets are in crowded areas such as airports, train and bus stations, hotel lobbies, restaurants, as well as at sporting events.
Most people carry more personal information in their wallets then they really need. The first thing that you should do before you travel is to go through your wallet and take out any personal information items that you don’t need when traveling such as bank checks, check books, credit card receipts, bills, and memberships cards such as library cards. You also don’t need to take your social security card as you probably have that number memorized by heart.
Debit cards are a convenient way to take small amounts of cash out of ATM’s when you travel, but they are also a great way for thieves to clean out your bank account if they get a hold of them. One way to reduce this risk is to open up a separate account at your bank before you leave and only put as much day-to-day cash in as you think you might need for your holidays. Take only this debit card with you.
Credit cards are protected by Federal law and are a much better choice to take with you as you are usually covered for any fraudulent charges incurred. If you are over charged or find an error on any of your credit card transactions when you travel, it’s easier to get the charges corrected or reversed from the card companies. You probably should take two credit cards in case one is lost, or compromised. You can also obtain a smaller, limited amount prepaid cash cards from MasterCard, Visa, and American Express that are perfect for daily use. You can purchase these cash cards in any denomination. It’s probably best to buy a couple of cards with lower limits of about five hundred dollars or less each. The credit card companies will replace any pilfered or lost funds. Leave your passport and major cards in your hotel room safe or the hotel’s safe along with any other personal info that you do not need from day to day.
Before you travel, be sure and check that your credit cards do not expire while you are on vacation. And remember to call your credit card issuers and let them know when and where you plan to holiday so they don’t have a seizure or conniption fit and cancel your card when they see a credit charge appearing from some place like Timbuktu. Be sure and make a note of these phone numbers and take them with you when traveling on vacation.
Another major source of identity theft can start with a stolen laptop. Over six hundred thousand laptops are pilfered or left behind in the U.S. alone, frequently from inattentive travelers in airports, hotel lobbies, and restaurants.
Before you travel, backup your laptop and put the backup disc in a safe place at home or in your safety deposit box at the bank just in case your laptop is stolen or lost. Put a small strip of colored tape on the top and bottom of your laptop and laptop case as most laptops and their cases look very similar in appearance. Write your name, destination address, as well as contact information at your destination on a piece of paper and tape it to your laptop just in case it’s lost at the airport. Don’t put your home address on this piece of paper. It’s better to use your business or work address and phone number. There are a large number of laptops left behind unintentionally. The lost and found offices at airports do not have time to try and gain access to every laptop left behind which are more than likely password protected anyway.
The third major source of identity theft can happen at any public computer or internet cafe. Your personal information could be at risk even if you are just accessing or sending e-mails. Key stroke loggers could be installed which secretly keeps a record of all user names, passwords and personal information entered on public computers. Even if the public computers are not compromised they still store the information you input in the temporary internet files and history. Do not access any bank or credit card account, or pay bills from these computers. In general, computers located in the business centers of hotels and on cruise ships are safer to use than other public computers.
The bottom line is to always be vigilant whenever you travel. Have a safe and fun filled vacation!