5 Ways You Are Vulnerable to Identity Theft When Traveling
Let’s face it: thieves are and always have been everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It could happen while you’re relaxing on the beach outside your hotel or when you’ve stopped to take a selfie in front of a magnificent water fountain in a foreign city. But sure enough, they are there, just waiting to steal your personal information.
I’m not just talking about your everyday purse snatchers either. The image of a “clumsy” thief bumping into you and stealing your wallet is no longer the only way a criminal can rob your trip of its life. Identity theft is the latest and greatest threat to your adventure, and it sneaks up in creatively sinister ways.
Here are some major threats to consider when you’re traveling (and ways to prepare for them):
Snatch and Grab
Though we’ll be covering some more hi-tech criminals, it’s important to realize that old fashion thieves still exist. We’re talking about the guys (and girls) that saunter up and physically steal from you. This can be in the form of forcibly taking your items, or by opportunistically fleeing with anything you’ve left unattended.
But your cash is no longer the main commodity. Belongings such as your credit card and ID are much higher ticket items, as they may be gateways into your accounts and ultimately into impersonating you. Smartphones, convenient as they may be, often have your accounts automatically logged in, another easy way into your private data.
If possible, avoid traveling alone, and keep anything valuable in sight at all times. I’ve developed a habit of the triple pat: keys, wallet, phone. Checking on these every few minutes can keep you on alert but it can also signal to pick-pocketers exactly where you are storing your valuables!
Never trust anyone you don’t know to watch your things. Keep crucial identification on you at all times, particularly when traveling out of country (a lost passport can land you in a world of trouble). Some public locations may have a locker you can rent to store your belongings; just make sure you don’t lose the key!
Credit Skimmers and RFID Skimmers
There are two types of skimmers you need to be concerned about when traveling. The more traditional credit skimmer is typically in the form of a fake ATM or gas station card reader, or in some cases is hidden behind the desk of a cashier. There have even been cases of food service people who “need to run your card” and stealing your information before returning with the bill.
The other is a bit more technical and recent. If your card has an RFID chip in it (and can be “tapped” to pay), it may be vulnerable to RFID skimming. Unlike with traditional credit skimming, the criminal just needs to be within a foot of your card. A small device can actually scan the card’s information and store it for later use.
Luckily both of these problems can be circumvented fairly easily. You may have already seen one such solution if you’ve been staying up late watching infomercials selling specialty wallets or credit card sleeves.
Aluminum foil also works; these solutions help prevent RFID skimmers from reading your card. For traditional credit skimming, you’ll need to be on the lookout for suspicious activity; don’t let vendors walk away with your card (use cash at restaurants if possible), and only use trusted ATMs.
You can also upgrade to one of the newer cards (if you haven’t already) that has an EMV chip in it. This new chip works by randomizing the values on your card constantly so that skimmed data becomes outdated and useless very quickly. Just remember if your card still has a magnetic strip, the EMV card won’t protect you entirely.
You may also want to have your bank monitor your activity while you’re traveling, as many will happily do so if you let them know. You can also check for yourself by monitoring your online statements. Just beware accessing them via public WiFi.
Traveling sometimes means temporarily giving up some access to the internet (maybe not such a bad thing). But when public WiFi appears, most of us are all too happy to connect. Maybe your hotel doesn’t have much to watch. Perhaps your data plan doesn’t cover the area you’re in.
Unfortunately, free WiFi spots can be the perfect place for identity theft. Unsecured connections such as these are a magnet for hackers looking to steal information from your phone or laptop. This one, however, is an easy fix.
You’ll want to get yourself a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for any sort of traveling that will at some point involve using the net. This is basically a service that encrypts your connection by connecting to a remote server, protecting all of your devices you install it on. Services range in price from $5–15 a month.
There’s also the added benefit of accessing region specific content that is otherwise geo-blocked. With a VPN, you can enjoy both safe net access and your favorite shows.
Feel like someone’s looking over your shoulder? They just might be. When you’re typing in a password or putting your credit card pin into a machine, someone could be watching what you’re doing. If you’re going to be doing something in a public place while you travel, it’s important to cover your passwords.
For laptops, you can purchase a privacy screen that will keep your screen visible only from a direct view. Standard ATM safety applies (cover your fingers) and on your smartphone, you should not access important accounts in public WiFi’s. Avoiding leaving credit cards visible for too long or someone may decide to write the numbers down.
Sometimes carrying a laptop around just isn’t viable. Whether it has to do with the weight or there are other problems, you may find yourself accessing a public computer. In many cases, this is okay like if you’re getting a map or looking for nearby restaurants.
However I would strongly suggest against logging into accounts or visiting anything personal. Sites such as Facebook can be a tunnel into your personal information. Some public computers may even save your keystrokes and web-browsing history.
Consider deleting your cache, browsing history and cookies when you’re done using any public device. Be certain you’ve actually logged out of any accounts you’ve accessed, since just closing the page often isn’t enough.
As an added precaution, change the password to any accounts you did access when you’re finished with your trip. You can’t be too careful, and it’s generally a good idea to change your passwords frequently anyway. Just be sure to use a good password (long, upper and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, etc.).
Properly prepared, travel shouldn’t be worrisome or something you overthink. Remember that identity theft can occur even in a familiar setting and these sorts of precautions can be helpful anywhere, not just while traveling. When in doubt, give your bank or credit company a call if you believe something suspicious is going on.
So pack your safety wallet, your security software, a bottle of sunscreen and have a safe trip! If you enjoyed this story, please share it and follow us.
Author bio: This article was written by Jess Signet, an avid traveler and guest writer for YouRoam . Jess enjoys writing about travel, technology and life as a digital nomad.
About YouRoam: YouRoam lets you make and receive calls on your own phone number while anywhere in the world and avoiding outrageous roaming and long-distance fees.