Identity theft has become a serious problem over the past decade, it’s the virtual equivalent of being mugged on the street, although much sneakier. Months may go by before you ever realize that your identity has been compromised – it’s a little unnerving, to say the least! And, it’s not just a problem in the US – it’s a worldwide issue.
Travelers are especially vulnerable to identity theft. Just think about it – you use unknown and unsecured internet connections, you carry around a lot of personal information (like your passport), and you are using credit cards with merchants you know little to nothing about. It can add up to a recipe for disaster if you aren’t careful. So how can you better protect yourself while traveling?
Follow these simple tips:
Share your itinerary. No, we don’t mean on Facebook! Email a copy of your flight and hotel accommodations to a family or friend, so they know where you will be in case an emergency happens.
Scan or take a photo of your passport. If your passport is lost or worse, stolen, make sure you have a photo of your passport saved on your phone or a scanned copy in your wallet or luggage. Also, consider having a digital scan saved on a cloud-based platform such as DropBox – just in case your wallet and phone are stolen. This will make it MUCH easier to get back home. A good rule of thumb is to never leave your passport unattended. Keep it on your person as much as possible. If you can’t take it with you, use a hotel safe when possible.
Avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It may be tempting to connect to the free unsecured Wi-Fi to check email or social media, but it’s never a good idea. Your personal information can be vulnerable when using unsecured internet service. Here’s a few tips if you must Use Public Wi-Fi Networks. If you rent a car, avoid using Bluetooth. When your Bluetooth is active, hackers can see the networks you’ve connected to previously, mimic them and then fool your device into connecting to their Bluetooth devices. Once they are connected, they can put malware onto your device, then steal data or spy on you. Here’s a few other tips to use when renting a car: Car Rental Tips.
Check your credit card activity. When safe to do so, check your credit card or bank activity while traveling for any suspicious or unauthorized charges. If you wait until you get home, the thieves will have a good head start! Make sure you save all your credit and debit card institution phone numbers so you can notify them ASAP in the event of a lost or stolen card.
On a side note: never carry all your cash, credit cards, and passport in the same location on your person. Put some cash and a credit card in a zippered or closeable pocket, some in your wallet or purse, and leave some in your luggage or hotel room safe if possible.
Change your passwords. It’s a smart idea to change your passwords often to prevent hackers, but you should also change them after you return from a trip as well. Not all identity thieves strike immediately, so changing your passwords upon your return can still prevent your information from being compromised down the road.
Keep your cell phone secure. Before traveling abroad, make sure you have a global plan that covers your travel locations, or purchase a disposal phone just for traveling purposes. ALWAYS make sure your phone is password protected.
Enroll in STEP. Before you head off on that adventure, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which is a government initiative to keep Americans safe abroad. It’s a free service that allows you to get travel warnings and alerts for a particular country, and will help the government assist you better in an emergency.
Hopefully, these tips will help keep you and your family and friends safe as you travel the world and fill that passport will new stamps. And don’t forget to let your financial institution know of your travel plans – there’s nothing worse than having your card declined while you’re thousands of miles away. If you have questions on fraud, travel notifications, or what to do if your Litchfield Bancorp credit or debit cards are lost or stolen – Give us a call!
Stephen Yonych Jr.
Assistant Vice President, Watertown Manager