You may already be worrying about some of the potential challenges that lie ahead for your summer travel, like lost luggage, unpredictable weather, or long flight delays. But there could be a far more serious danger lurking for travelers—identity theft. Gear up for your summer vacation with 15 ways to help better protect your information on the road.
- Update and Backup Your Technology – If you plan on bringing any devices with you on your vacation, you may want to update your software—including any apps—before you go. Using outdated software could put your information at risk for theft, as software updates often fix known security issues. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advises international travelers to be sure to: back up electronic files, remove sensitive data, install strong passwords, and update antivirus software.
- Don’t Overshare on Social Media – You may be itching to post that first travel photo on social media, but before you do, consider the possible consequences of oversharing your travel plans. For example, posting a photo with your location tagged could give potential thieves the heads up that your home and mailbox have been left unattended. Also consider talking with your travel companions about their comfort level with being tagged or included in social media updates.
- Change Passcodes and Passwords – Before you take off, you may want to update the passcode lock on your mobile devices as well as the account passwords on any sensitive accounts. This step could give you a little extra peace of mind, especially if you’ve been the victim of a past data breach, in which case your old username and password could already be in the hands of a hacker.
- Enable Two-step Verification – Two-step verification is a feature that requires you to enter a code sent to your phone when you login. This additional verification can help prevent hackers from accessing your accounts, unless they also have your phone. If your travel will take you out of the country, make sure your phone will work in the destination country before setting up this feature.
- Disable Your Wi-Fi – Turning off Wi-Fi could help prevent hackers from infiltrating your device over an unsecured network, like those found in coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, and airports. You can enable Wi-Fi again when you are in range of a safe connection.
- Make a Plan for Powering Up – Avoid public charging stations if you can help it. In a scheme called “juicejacking,” criminals lure travelers into plugging in their devices for a quick charge while a hidden computer downloads files and information from the device, including usernames, passwords, and account numbers. One option for long journeys is to bring your own portable power bank.
- Pack a Travel Wallet – Consider streamlining your wallet or purse by carrying only the card or cards you need for the trip. Safely store the others.
- Know Your Numbers – It may be a good idea to keep a record of your bank account and credit card numbers plus the phone numbers of the financial institutions in a secure place, so you can quickly notify banks, creditors, and the appropriate authorities in case of theft. There are also services available to store an electronic encrypted copy of the contents of your wallet.
- Choose Credit over Debit – Debit cards are connected directly to your checking account, making them more like an electronic check that withdraws money from your account as soon as the transaction is processed. If your debit card were to be stolen or hacked, money could be drained from your account, even if temporarily. Depending on when you report the fraud to your financial institution, you could be responsible for none or all of the loss. In the case of fraudulent credit card transactions, U.S. federal law limits a consumer’s liability to $50, and some credit cards go even further to offer customers zero liability protection.
- Choose ATMs Wisely – When possible, use an ATM that is affiliated with your bank—not an ATM in a convenience store, bar, or on the street, which tend to be less secure. Credit card thieves sometimes use a device called a skimmer on ATMs and fuel pumps that “skims” the data from the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card.
- Surf Wisely on Public Wi-Fi – Cyberthieves can capture the data that travels between your phone and the router on a public Wi-Fi network, so you may want to limit online banking and other sensitive transactions or communications to secure networks only. Better yet, set up a VPN on your phone or computer.
- Don’t Let Mail Linger – The US Postal Service recommends depositing outgoing mail in a USPS collection box and not leaving mail in your mailbox overnight, on the weekend, or when you travel. You can also sign up for Informed Delivery through the USPS, which gives you a preview of your mail so you can see if anything is missing.
- Beware When Travel Booking Too – Remember to better protect yourself not just during your vacation, but also from the time you first make your reservations. Read Before Booking Your Summer Vacation, Study Up on Travel Fraud and How to Better Detect It.
- Plan for a Post-vacation Credit Check-up – Before your vacation gets rolling, now is a great time to set a reminder for an annual review of your credit reports when you return home.
- Update Device and Passwords When You Get Home – Your mobile phone and other electronic devices may be vulnerable to malware if you connected with local networks during your travels. When you return home, consider updating your security software and changing the passwords on all devices.
Laws and policies regarding online security and privacy differ in other countries, so if you plan on traveling abroad, you can visit the US Department of State’s website to search travel safety information for a specific country.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, report it at IdentityTheft.gov, the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims.