How to Keep Personal Data Safe When Traveling

How to Keep Personal Data Safe When Traveling

The busy travel season is here, and millions of people are preparing for their long-awaited  trips. While a lot of effort goes into vacation planning – from researching destinations to booking hotels and airfare – excited jetsetters often overlook an important detail before takeoff: how to keep personal and financial data safe. With credit card fraud and identity theft on the rise, distracted travelers are more vulnerable than ever and should be serious about safeguarding their information.

“Travelers are easy targets for identity thieves, especially during times of peak travel such as the summer,” says Kamil Faizi, identity theft specialist at IDShield.com, a company that provides identity theft protection to more than 1 million people in the U.S. and Canada. “Identity theft can happen globally, and the same technology is used by thieves regardless of where in the world one is traveling.”

Last year, 15.4 million Americans were exposed to an incident of identity theft, up 16 percent from 2015, according to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research. These attacks aren’t limited to the U.S., either. A recent report from ACI Worldwide and Aite Group shows that nearly 1 in 3 consumers has been victimized by card fraud on a global level. Although most consumers associate fraud and identity theft with the loss or theft of a wallet or purse, there are a number of other, less obvious ways that criminals obtain a traveler’s personal information. Learning how thieves attack consumers and knowing how to safeguard information can greatly reduce the risk of these threats.

Ditch unneeded documents, papers and extra cards. Travelers should clean out their wallets of any documents or papers that may contain sensitive information before heading out on a trip. Ditch drug prescriptions, old memos, business cards, expired documents and extra credit or store cards, all of which a criminal could use for identity theft, says Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, a firm that provides security awareness training.

 Use ATMs at banks only. Credit card skimmers use a small device to steal credit card information in what appears to be a legitimate transaction. The skimmer can be attached to ATMs, and captures all the details stored in the card’s magnetic strip when swiped through the device. Since paying with cash is another way to avoid such skimmers, accessing funds can be tricky. However, experts advise travelers to use official bank ATMs instead of private ones, like those found at a convenience store, on a street corner or in a hotel.

“It is a walk in the park for a thief to install a thin card reader in a private ATM, and the victim will not know that he or she was targeted until it is too late,” Faizi says. He adds that bank ATMs receive regular maintenance and have cameras, so tampering is extremely unlikely.

Approach public computers with caution. Travelers flock to public computers found at libraries, internet cafes and hotel lobbies to quickly and cheaply access email, bank statements and social media. However, these activities expose people to potential cyber threats. “A public computer is a very fertile area for identity theft,” Siciliano says. “Public PCs are controlled by somebody else who potentially could have installed spyware or malicious software that records keystrokes and every website username and password typed in.” If a public computer is the only available option, travelers should delete search histories after use, avoid logging into financial accounts and never save passwords or use the auto-save function.

 Beware of free Wi-Fi. Connecting to a free Wi-Fi hot spot found at airports, hotels and cafes is appealing to travelers looking to save money on data costs, but unsecured networks pose a serious risk of cyberattacks. In fact, 1 in 5 tourists is likely to get hacked while browsing the web on a public Wi-Fi network, according to a survey by cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. Public hot spots have limited security and are extremely accessible to hackers looking to steal a user’s card details, personal identity or financial information, says Robert Knapp, cybersecurity expert and CEO of CyberGhost, an international privacy and security solutions provider. While travelers are advised to choose a password-protected internet connection, it is not always available. The best defense in this case is using a virtual private network, commonly referred to as a VPN.

“Travelers can keep their data safe by primarily using VPNs, which provide an encrypted tunnel to the internet and a new IP address, so nobody can spy on the user’s internet activity or steal data when using an unsecured network,” Knapp says. “It’s a tool to protect your identity, which otherwise would be left exposed.”

Review statements regularly. No one wants to spend precious days on vacation pouring over financial statements, but staying vigilant is the best defense against card fraud. Try “signing up for alerts with each credit card account to get instant emails (or texts) when a transaction posts to your account,” says Johnny Jet, travel expert and founder of JohnnyJet.com, a site dedicated to providing expert travel tips. This makes it very easy to spot potential fraudulent charges as soon as they occur, so travelers can call the credit card company or bank immediately to freeze the account before further damage is done. Jet also advises consumers to travel with at least two cards, so there is a backup in the event that one card becomes compromised and must be put on hold.

Stay away from social media. Avoid posting your trip on social media, which could alert thieves that no one is home and expose you to potential break-ins, says Steven Bearak, CEO of IdentityForce, a provider of proactive identity, privacy and credit protection. Jet agrees, advising travelers to avoid posting pictures of boarding passes on Facebook or Instagram. Boarding documents contain sensitive information, including the person’s name, frequent flyer account and flight confirmation number, all of which can be used to steal an identity and hack accounts. Consumers aren’t thinking about theft when sharing a happy moment, but letting their guard down can compromise personal data quickly.

Scan copies of personal documents. Though fraud crimes are happening online at an alarming rate these days, pickpocketing and theft from hotel rooms are still real threats for travelers. Scan copies of all personal documents and credit or bank cards in the event a wallet or purse is lost or stolen, Jet says. This helps travelers identify which cards are missing and whom to call to freeze the account immediately.

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Source: US News & World Report.

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