Spring and summer vacation season is upon us, and if you're traveling far from home, you probably want to do all you can to make sure your wallet or purse doesn't end up in the wrong hands. But according to a recent Experian ProtectMyID survey, 30% of travelers have experienced identity theft while away from home or know someone who has.
It's best to take steps now to keep control of your sensitive information. Here are some ways you can protect yourself on your next trip.
Gary Devan of San Diego says he signed up to receive texts from his financial institution so that he'd be immediately notified of unusual or suspicious activity in his accounts, like unusually large purchases. "If alerts are available on your accounts, you can receive them even while on vacation," he says. Devan has good reason to want to avoid an account breach - he happens to be the chief information officer where he banks, Mission Federal Credit Union. He hasn't experienced any noteworthy issues, but says the fraud alert service gives him peace of mind while traveling.
Hackers may be able to access public networks and see any information you send over them, including bank account numbers, logins and passwords, says Jason Glassberg, co-founder of Casaba Security, a computer security firm in Redmond, Washington. Glassberg suggests skipping Wi-Fi while traveling, unless you use a virtual private network. "If you don't have a VPN, stick with a cellular signal, as it's much safer," he says. "For a laptop, you can hotspot your phone to connect over cellular." Cellular text-messaging and VPNs are good alternatives, but the reality is, you may still choose to use public networks to surf the Web, especially if you're not sending sensitive data over Wi-Fi. If that's the case, it's a good idea to set your device to forget that network when you log off. That way, it won't automatically log back on to it the next time you go online.
If your device goes missing, you may be able to use "find my" or similar software to pinpoint its location and retrieve it. If that's not possible, some apps could erase all the data on the device, so it won't get into the wrong hands. Another way to help prevent data theft is to lock the screens on your electronics.
If you carry a handbag, try to keep it in front of you, so it's not an easy mark for thieves. If you have a wallet, try to secure it as well. "I keep mine in a zipped pocket or travel pack," Devan says. Another idea is to wrap the wallet in a rubber band or other coarse material so that it won't easily slide out of your pocket. In addition to securing your belongings, it's also a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and try not to become distracted.
"Look at them before you swipe. Check for loose housing, exposed wires, bulkiness and anything that looks out of ordinary," Glassberg says. Those are all signs that a thief may have installed a skimmer on the machine, which could lift the data from your card, he says. Also, try to use a bank branch or merchant you trust when withdrawing cash.
Say you're staying in a hotel and someone calls your room, says he's from the "front desk" and needs to verify your credit card number. Don't think you have to share your information immediately. You could say you'll call back, and hang up. Then you can call the front desk using the number you have in your records and ask the staff if they really need this information. If not, you may have just avoided an identity theft attempt.
Social Security cards as well as credit and debit cards that you don't plan to use on the trip can stay behind. The fewer sensitive documents you have, the fewer chances that they could be stolen. Despite your best efforts, if you find that your identity has been stolen, it's important to report it quickly to your financial institutions and the local police. Your summer vacation should be a time for relaxation, so take steps now to avoid crossing paths with a thief or hacker. By using these tips, you could lower the odds of having your identity stolen and boost your chances of having more fun in the sun.
Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @margarette www.nerdwallet.com