How To

Summer Travel Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

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Hooray, it’s summer! It’s time for fun in the sun and trips to visit family, friends and exotic locales. What could be more relaxing and restful? Before you get out there and start your holiday, there are a few things you should be doing to enjoy your time away with peace of mind. That way you can avoid having to deal with the aftermath of identity theft when you get back. (Nothing like dealing with bureaucracy to make you feel the need for a vacation from your vacation!)

Things to do before you leave:

  • Don’t announce your trip on social media
    Does that lady you met at a party one time really need to know that you’re going to be out of your house for several days? Go ahead and post those vacation snaps when you’re back in situ, but while you’re gone, keep that info on the down-low.
  • Don’t check in on social apps
    I don’t think I’m the only one that finds incessant check-ins to be the bane of social networking sites. But if you’re not going to tell every person you’ve ever met that you’re going to visit Grandma in Dubuque for a week, why would you tell everyone you’re now the “Mayor” of the downtown Dubuque Coffee Emporium?
  • Update all your software
    If you’ll be using public Wi-Fi while you’re on the road, you’re going to be sharing bandwidth with a lot of other people, some of whom may have questionable motives. There have been instances of malware authors taking advantage of people in hotels, creating fake update notices to fool people into downloading software that they think is beneficial to their security. There’s simply more risk than reward for most people to update when you’re not in a controlled network.
  • Encrypt important data on your devices
    The best way to keep miscreants from getting at your important data is to lock it away where they can’t get it. On your computer, tablet or cell phone, this means encrypting files or directories where your sensitive data resides.
  • Lock up your docs at home
    While the odds of someone breaking into your house to commit identity theft may be lower, it’s not a bad idea to lock up those documents you would be lost without. Here’s your motivation to finally sort through and put away that giant stack of mail that you keep meaning to get to.
  • Put a hold on your mail
    Not only does a mailbox overflowing with mail let would-be criminals know you’re not home, it’s a veritable grab bag of personally identifiable info that could be used to steal your identity.
  • Bring only necessary cards
    Having extraneous stuff in your wallet may not seem like a big deal, but by taking nothing more than absolutely necessary you can avoid more heartache than the potential for identity theft. You can also avoid having to deal with a thousand tiny irritations – not having to replace your gym and library card, not losing those 4 stamps towards a free sandwich at your favorite lunch spot, not losing that ticket stub you’ve been carrying around from the first date with your wife…
  • Set up a travel alert on your credit card
    This tip is as much about preventing fraud as preventing your credit card company from flagging your vacation purchases as fraud. If you call your credit card company before you leave on vacation, they’re less likely to suddenly get twitchy about purchases made in strange places. And consequently you won’t have to have that embarrassing conversation after the fact when your card has been declined at that fancy restaurant.
  • Don’t keep copies of important travel docs in check-in luggage
    The thing about checking in luggage is that it leaves your hands for an indeterminate period of time, while passing through the hands of who-knows-how-many baggage handlers. If those docs have personal details or your itinerary on them, it’s not something you really want to be in a stranger’s possession. And if your luggage gets lost, all the benefit of those copies is lost too. Keep your documents nearby, in an interior pocket ideally, and avoid the problem entirely.

Things to Remember On the Road:

  • Tear up your boarding pass
    Ideally, you should be using mobile boarding passes (here’s a nifty trick: using screen captures for dealing with connectivity issues) but not all airports have that technology yet. As your boarding pass may have all sorts of personally identifying info, be sure to tear it up once you get where you’re going. (You can always scan it into Evernote first if you need it for your records)
  • Use your credit card (not debit) for purchases
    When you use your debit card, it’s a direct line to your bank account. When you’re using your credit card, it’s accessing only a limited credit account with more fraud protections. If either card gets stolen, it’s generally going to be much more problematic to correct theft of a debit card than the theft of a credit card.
  • Be careful with Wi-Fi
    Using Wi-Fi when you’re on the road may be easy and simple, but it’s decidedly risky. It’s best to use encryption and VPN whenever possible, and definitely make sure your antivirus and Firewall software are up to date and running at all times.
  • Use hotel room safes
    Just because your hotel room is locked doesn’t mean other people can’t get into it. A hotel lock hack was announced last year and has not been corrected in the majority of hotels, which has led to an increasing number of thefts. If you’re leaving anything with your personal information on it, including phones and computers, be sure to lock them up before leaving your room.
  • Know what to do if your iDevice is lost or stolen
    Losing your mobile gadgets is no fun, but you can mitigate the pain.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for using technology to make your trip safer and more serene? And what do you do to keep your gadgets less likely to be lost or stolen while you’re on the road?