Preventing ID Theft While Traveling

BY Beth Williams
Preventing ID Theft While Traveling

Preventing ID Theft While Traveling

Having your financial identity stolen or compromised while traveling is becoming more of an issue every day.  Here are some tips from on protecting your identity once you have arrived at your destination to help protect yourself and your financial identity.

ID theft while traveling has seen some unique scams which have cropped up recently.  Here are a few to show how slick these thieves are and why you should be on your toes:

  • The hotel credit card scam, which has popped up around the world. The caller typically calls a slumbering guest and indicates he’s a hotel employee and the hotel computer system has crashed. In order to complete the nightly hotel audit, the caller says, he must have your credit card number which you give because your tired and want to go back to sleep.
  • Crooks who monitor who’s not home, via social networking sites. Almost half of those between the ages of 18 and 34 who responded to recent survey asked of travelers said that they announced their travel plans on their social media sites.  Posting photos just taken by your iPhone of some exotic location is another tip off.

What you are up against when it comes to identity theft – Watch this video

The following are a few ID theft prevention tips that you might want to consider prior to and during your next trip.

Before You Go

1. During long absences, freeze your credit. If you’ll be traveling for a long time and won’t be able to check your accounts regularly for suspicious activity, consider putting a freeze on your credit report. A freeze prevents potential lenders from accessing your credit report without your authorization, which can prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. You can still make charges to your current cards without unfreezing your account. It generally costs $10 at each credit bureau to freeze the account and $10 to unfreeze it. For this precaution to be effective, you must freeze your credit report at all three credit bureaus. Contact, and individually.

2. Let your credit-card company know if you’ll be traveling (especially if you’re leaving the country). Financial institutions’ fraud departments are becoming more vigilant about any unusual activity on your card, which can be a great way to detect a problem. But if you’re away from home when the bank calls to verify the charges, you could end up with a frozen account while you’re out of town. Avoid the hassles and notify your bank before you leave home.

3. Don’t automatically call back the phone number that claims to be from the bank. If you get a phone call or e-mail about suspicious activity on your card, don’t automatically call back the number on the message — that’s a common ploy by ID thieves to capture personal information. Call the customer service number on the back of your credit card instead. If the call was legitimate, they’ll be able to connect you to the appropriate department.

4. Secure your mail while you’re gone. Don’t leave your mailbox unattended, if you’re on the road. Have a trusted neighbor or friend pick up your mail every day, or stop your mail at the post office if you’ll be gone for a while. Your mail can be a treasure trove for criminals — containing your credit-card numbers as well as personal information that could lead to identity theft. There’s no greater magnet for burglars than a mailbox that is overflowing with mail.  Don’t announce the dates of your travel on your Facebook page. That’s like issuing an open-invitation to thieves. If you are one of those who can’t break the habit of putting outgoing mail in your mail box, at least you should know not to put mail containing checks, credit card numbers or other personal information in your outgoing mail box.  Your mail can be a treasure trove for thieves. Drop your mail at the post office instead.

5. Weed out your wallet and “unpack” your critical and un-needed documents before your trip. Tourist destinations are often a haven for pickpockets, so go through your wallet and take out unneeded credit cards and personal information before you leave – basically “unpack” your wallet and “pack” your luggage is a good analogy to embrace before taking a trip. Don’t carry your Social Security number in your wallet, and only take the credit cards that you need. Make copies of all of your important documents, such as your passport, driver’s license, health insurance card and tickets, so you’ll have access to the information if your wallet is stolen. Leave the copies with a trusted family member or scan them into an encrypted file on your computer. Also keep a list of contact numbers for your credit-card company and bank with you, so it will be easy to call if your wallet is stolen or you have any trouble with your account.

6. Conduct a pre-trip check-up on your social media accounts before you leave  Take a look at your social media settings, especially on your phone before you leave – even your kids accounts, as they all will leave a trail on social media by posting updates and photos.  When you post updates on your social media accounts when you travel, you may be alerting ID-theft criminals that your are away, and the best time to burglarize your home is now — because you’re away. Give strong thought to turning off your location settings and delay the posting of your trip photos until you return home, especially if those photos contain geographical information (geotagging).

While You Are Traveling

1.Be smart about that smart phone. The public as well as many travelers have converted their cell phones to smart phones, but many times don’t think about security at the same level when using their phones – think about how often you see them laying around on tables or loosely held in back pockets or open purses.  Remember, your phone is is almost always turned on and logged into your accounts.  A stolen smartphone can provides a treasure trove of information that can be the “holy grail” for a identity thief – especially when a smart phone contain passwords to many of your personal accounts.

Watch This Video Which Will Make You Think About Identity Theft While Traveling and Using Social Media

Travelers should always use the pin or password feature of their smart phone to keep personal information safe, in case it’s lost or stolen.  You can find several smart phone software programs that can help provide additional safeguards of your valuable information – especially if you access your bank account via your smart phone.  Additionally, be careful of free apps you download on your smart phone.  Google recently removed 21 free popular apps from the Android market place because they secretly stole available data on users’ smart phones and allowed malware to be downloaded onto your phone which can cause your information to be compromised.

Make sure you use your phones home-screen-locking password. Depending on your phone model, this may be a numerical code, a unique swiping pattern, or a fingerprint scan. Avoid obvious numerical codes such as “1111” or your birth year, and remember to change your PIN frequently; it’s not that difficult for someone looking over your shoulder to guess what you’re typing.

Here are a few more smartphone security tips to consider while traveling:

  • Set a password on the phone so someone who finds or steals it can’t use it.
  • Turn Bluetooth off – Cyber criminals have the capability to pair their Bluetooth device with yours to steal personal information. Check your settings to ensure your Bluetooth is turned off when you do not need to use it.
  • Before traveling, consider deleting any especially sensitive apps, such as banking apps, social networks, etc. There are easy to reinstall when you get home.
  • Log out of all apps before going out for the day, as many apps keep you logged in by default (Facebook, Twitter, as well as many other apps.
  • Remain wary of suspicious e-mails and Web sites. Studies indicate folks are much more likely to click on malware links on their cell phone than on their computer.
  • Remember, any threat that could occur when using a public Wi-Fi spot also impacts your smartphone as well.

2. Guard your documents and information while on the road. It seems simple, but even the most seasoned traveler can have their bags or wallets stolen or left behind in seconds.  You’ve read it before in most travel safety articles, but you keep reading it for a reason…it happens all the time.  Your wallet, passport, and other important documents are very valuable to the right theif when you travel overseas.  Don’t leave any sensitive documents like your wallet and passport lying around in your hotel room while you are out, you are a lot more likely to experience identity theft than if you have them in a money belt, document protector.  You also have to be aware that digital pickpockets in another thing that travelers need to keep an eye out for and may even consider purchasing a wallet, purse, daypack, or travel bag which contains RFID blocking material that stops this type of theft.

3. While at your hotel, don’t leave personal information lying around in your hotel room. Keep your credit cards and other important information with you or lock them up in the hotel safe – leave your checkbook in a safe place at home, if possible. Safeguard your laptop computer, too, especially if it has account information that is not encrypted.  Never leave any personal information or your computer out in your hotel room.  Too many people work in hotels that float in and out.  You can never be too sure, and the best way to eliminate that possibility is to put everything in the hotel safe.

4. Hotel and public computers – shared and insecure internet connections. The days of internet cafe’s are waning, and many travelers at taking Wi-Fi enabled tablets and laptops on their trips.  With taking this technology on the road, comes a certain amount of caution, and most of it has to do with the Internet connection that we use.  Anytime you log into the internet, you need to make sure you log in via a secure connection, otherwise anything you do, anything you view, anything you send, or anything you receive can be viewed by anyone.  Be very careful when using an unsecured wireless network. Don’t access your accounts or personal information on unsecured public or hotel computer networks.  Keep in mind that if you use a public computer, say in a hotel lobby or other public location, a thief could have installed software that logs keystrokes and records your passwords and account numbers of anyone who uses that computer.  Make sure your passwords to anything you log into is strong.  Make sure you use words with symbols, numbers, upper and lowercase and punctuation for passwords. Don’t share passwords between your e-mail, social networking and bank accounts either.Lastly, be very careful when using an un-secure wireless network.

Whenever possible, stick to more secure WEP, WPA, and WPA2 networks, which require a password to log on. If you must use an open (non-password-protected) network, immediately log out of banking, social media, and email accounts when finished with each session. To prevent your data packets from being plucked from midair, use only encrypted websites (such as those with “https” in the address) when on free Wi-Fi networks. If you see a warning that a site you are entering is not secured, is risky, or contains malware, don’t proceed.

If you’re traveling with your own laptop and using free Wi-Fi, make sure your connections are secure. Some Web sites let you log in over open networks, so you should always try to use HTTPS:// instead of HTTP:// (the S stands for “secure” and indicates that the data is encrypted for more protection). You can also get a plug-in for your browser like HTTPS Everywhere, which will try this automatically. Another solution might be the USB-based product SurfEasy, which will help encrypt your data when you’re using a public connection from your own computer.  If you want more security when using someone else’s machine, such as at an Internet cafe, hotel lobby computer or other public terminal, you can try several services that keeps your data connections secure when you’re traveling.

Some travelers take a secured USB thumb drive on the road and use it when they have to use a public internet connection. These secure thumb drives have their own internet browser on the drive so after you plug in the drive its like using your own little secure computer. All your passwords and transactions are done through a very secure browser on the thumb drive and leaves no trace on the computer you are using.

5. Delete All Cookies and Browsing History on Public Terminals   If you find you must use a public computer, the last thing you should do is delete all cookies and browsing history before you log off. Many computers can cache quite a bit of significant information, and some Web sites are even set up to keep you logged in when you close the browser unless you specifically log off (such as Facebook and LinkedIn). Many public terminals will delete this type of data automatically, but doing it yourself offers much better peace of mind.

6. Consider using a VPN  Another option to consider iff you must connect to an unsecured network, is to consider using a VPN (virtual private network), which essentially encrypts your data so that it’s not readable even if others access it. There are a variety of services at different price points like Private Internet Access from $3.33 per month.

Banking and Credit Card Information While Traveling

1. Travel overseas with credit cards with embedded chip technology  Use a credit card with embedded chip technology. The EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) cards, or “smart cards,” as they are known, are more secure than standard magnetic-stripe cards.

2. Credit Card Skimming  Make sure you take a few digital safeguards when you travel – especially when it comes to your credit cards which contain an embedded chip.  In a nutshell, credit card skimming can come in many forms, one of them involves a digital pickpocket using a very small radio-powered device that can essentially lift your credit card information directly from the magnetic strip on its backside, if it gets physically close enough.  This can be easily done with one of the newer Android smartphones that have NFC enabled.  Typically, digital thieves may look for travelers or anyone for that matter as locations where they can get close to someone without drawing attention to themselves, such as metro, train, subway, and bus stations, street fairs, or other densely packed locations where people can be found. If you’re concerned about this type of theft, you can pick up a wallet with “RFID” shielding — or lining that essentially blocks the radio frequencies that skimming devices use.

Using smartphone to make payments

Using smartphone to make payments

3. Choose ATMs wisely and be wary of generic ATMs while traveling on the road. Always be wary of standalone ATM machines that are not connected to the bank, as this video from The Today Show demonstrates, ATMs can be fake. Disturbingly, ATM kiosks are available for purchase online and if they are not in a bank, or attached to a bank, it’s harder to tell if an ATM is read or not.  All it takes is a bit of money, some clever hacking, and that’s it, that seemingly safe street-corner ATM has now stored your credit card information. Read this article to see this exact situation which happened in Brazil to drive home the point.

Many banks have been reporting an increase in ATM-skimming incidents. This is when thieves install a card reader in an ATM to capture your account information and PIN number, so they can steal from your account.  Stick with bank ATMs at a branch to be safe to provide yourself a greater level of security.  Additionally, jiggle the front of an ATM machine.  You may feel its loose right where you insert the card. If it’s loose, don’t use the ATM as this may show the tell tale sign that the ATM has been rigged to steal your information.

If you do need to use an ATM, stick to bank branches during normal banking hours, or, better yet, use cash-back options at convenience stores, pharmacies, and shops. Take your travel partner to the ATM with you and have him or her stand behind you to block other people’s views of your screen or hidden cameras pointed toward you.

If you want to be absolutely secure on the road, you can purchase a prepaid Visa card that allows you to withdraw money from ATMs with a temporary PIN. Simply destroy the card when your travels are over.

4. Using Debit Cards – The Most Vulnerable Locations While Traveling

If you have to use your ATM card while on the road, you might want to keep in mind the three locations where they are typically compromised, they are:

    • Gas Stations – Digital thieves install skimmers into pay-at-the-pump machines to read and capture the information on your card, and they use tiny cameras to steal your personal identification numbers (PINs) when you punch them in. So while you’re fueling up for that long road trip, they can be draining your bank account for a long spending spree.

Restaurants – Eating out is a significant part of the travel experience, and dishonest employees have an easy way to get all of your credit card information.  When you go to pay for your meal, the server takes your card and runs it, out of sight, and then captures all of you credit card information on a small battery operated device they carry in their pocket. While not the end of the world if your card has to be replaced, it turns into a big problem when you’re overseas.  Also keep in mind that the thief may now also have access to your entire bank account.

Some travelers think that they are safe when the restaurants use those handheld credit card devices that are popular abroad, keep in mind that they too may not be that secure.  Many of those devices aren’t encrypted because of the extra cost involved. Unencrypted, these devices are around $500 each, encrypted, they are about $1,200 apiece.  If its a small family restaurant, I bet to save costs the devices purchased are not encrypted.

Standalone ATMs – Obvious and discussed above.

5. Check your accounts while traveling for suspicious activity. Identity thieves like picking travelers as victims, as they rely to some extent on the delay in being found out that is inherent to travel; most travelers don’t check bank and credit card information until well after they have returned home, giving thieves a solid head start. As a rule, the sooner you can shut down an identity thief, the better, so consider checking in now and then to make sure things look normal. During your trip, spend a few minutes looking at your bank and credit-card accounts – but only when you are confident in the security of your internet connection — perhaps in a friend’s house, or other secure connection (if you had too, 3g and 4g phone connections tend to be more secure than public Wi-Fi).  When you look at your accounts, make sure every transaction is yours. This is a good idea when you’re out of town and might miss a call from your bank about suspicious activity.  Some banks offer a service that will notify you by text message or e-mail whenever a transaction above a certain size is made on your card.

Tips To Consider When Purchasing Identity Theft Protection Insurance That Provides Coverage While Traveling

Everyone has seen the many ads that tell the benefits about identity theft protection plans, but like everything else in life, you need to look into it.  Know that not every identity theft protection service is the same, especially when it comes to the types of coverage they provide and reimburse while traveling.

1. If you consider identity theft protection, know what it does and does not cover.  Everyone has seen the many ads that tell the benefits about identity theft protection plans, but like everything else in life, you need to look into it.  Know that not every identity theft protection service does not automatically include the monitoring of your information for the suspicious use of all your various identifications – as you have several, including your personal, financial, and one most often neglected, your medical information,  Make sure you also compare the varying types and amounts of coverage of each one of these, and look for specific wording if it covers incidents overseas – compare.

2. Are there any restrictions to the coverage when you travel?

Restrictions, restrictions, restrictions….and don’t forget to small print.  This is the area that most travelers spend the time looking at. Look into any restrictions each identity theft policy has – specifically when it comes to coverage while traveling.  For instance, one policy will offer travel assistance and will repay reasonable additional expenses, no mater where your travels take you, however it does not cover your income lost in the restoration of your identity if you’re self-employed.

Identity theft insurance can be used to cover unauthorized electronic fund transfers, lost wages, private investigator costs and some legal fees, for example. (Federal law already limits losses from lost or stolen credit, ATM or debit cards.)

3. Does the company investigate where your personal information is going? 

Again, this is an area that you need to compare again, as they all provide different levels of coverage. Some identity theft insurance companies provide services that monitor website that are known to sell personal information much like the black market.  Some provide daily reports, looks for court records for someone who may have been arrested and used your name, and some even monitor cellular companies, a service frequently targeted by ID thieves.  All these various checks of records are used to protect and restore the integrity of your personal data.

4. Who will help you if your identity is stolen?

This is one of the area that is also very important, especially if you need the service, and have never had to deal with an identity theft issue before.  Can you talk to a live person, or is the help you are provided just internet web based.  Having someone to talk to and walk you through your options and uniqueness of your identity theft can be invaluable and a big time saver.  Ideally you want a combination of the two.

When You Return Home

1. Consider changing internet passwords you may have used while traveling  You may want to change your passwords after a trip; identity thieves are thought to be very patient criminals, and often wait until you are less likely to pay attention after a few weeks at home. If you really like your password or PIN, one approach might be to change them right before you leave, use a new password while traveling and then change them back to your preferred passwords when you get home.

2. Be vigilant after you return home – check your accounts, and then check them again. When you are away find a secure connection to check your credit card statement and bank statement every day to make sure they are free from suspicious activity. Then when you get home, check everything again, including your credit reports.  Even if you don’t see any odd transactions, that still doesn’t mean you’re safe. Identity thieves are known for their patience, and it can take them a long time to pounce. Check your credit report at for any suspicious activity — you can get one free copy of your report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months, and you can stagger your requests so you can see one copy every four months. This is a good move for everyone to do, even if they haven’t left home in a while.