Identity theft prevention for travelers
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you need to protect your identity just as you would your valuables. Thieves are just as likely to target your personal information as your expensive camera or laptop.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
- Pack only what you need. Leave your checkbook and spare credit cards at home in a safe place or store them at your bank in a rented security box.
- Inform your credit card company that you’re traveling. Tell your credit card provider and bank where you will be traveling and how long you will be gone. Creditors are becoming better at detecting fraud and may shut down your card if they note a purchase in Bangkok but think you’re at home in Bellingham, for example.
- Stop the mail and newspaper delivery. Nothing says “nobody’s home” like an overflowing mailbox or a pile of unread newspapers on the porch. Identity thieves are known to rifle through mailboxes in search of personal information. Call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Make copies of important documents. Make copies of your Passport, medical card, prescriptions and airline tickets. List your traveler’s check serial numbers and credit card and bank account numbers, along with the customer service numbers for their fraud departments. Provide this information and your itinerary to a trusted friend or family member who you can call in an emergency. Carry a second set of copies with you to store in the hotel safe. But don’t forget to take the copies with you, along with other valuables you have parked in the hotel safe, when you check out.
- Don’t put your home address on your luggage tag. Use a business card instead and place it in a covered luggage tag holder. A thief can’t rob your home if he doesn’t know the address. If an airline attempts to return your lost luggage while you’re still on the road, the suitcase will arrive at your workplace.
- Consider notifying the U.S. State Department of your plans. Travel registration is a free service provided to U.S. citizens who are traveling to a foreign country. Registration allows you to record information about your upcoming trip that the State Department can use to assist you in case of an emergency. In accordance with the Privacy Act, the federal government may not release information on your welfare or whereabouts to inquirers without your written authorization. Register online at https://travelregistration.state.gov.
- Clean up your computer, PDA and cell phone. Delete sensitive information from your laptop, PDA and cell phone before you travel. Update your computer’s security software and protect your electronic devices with log-in passwords.
DURING THE TRIP
- Wear a money belt. Thwart pickpockets by carrying your Passport, credit card and cash beneath your clothing.
- Use the hotel safe. Only carry what you need and store the rest in your hotel’s safe.
- ATM, debit, credit, cash or traveler’s check? Smart travelers have several ways to pay.
- A credit card gives you better fraud protection than a debit card and most companies now extend zero liability to customers for unauthorized charges. A debit card is linked to your bank account so if the money disappears, you may be hit with overdraft fees. It can also take longer to be reimbursed for a fraudulent debit transaction and you may be on the hook for charges if you don’t report the fraud soon after it occurs.
- Considering switching your debit card with the Visa or Mastercard logo to an ATM card that can only be used with a PIN for cash withdrawals. If a thief steals your card, they won’t be able to go shopping.
- Unscrupulous merchants can pilfer your credit card information and use your account. Although your credit card issuer should hold you harmless for this type of loss, some experts suggest using cash or traveler’s checks for purchases.
- Receipts may contain your credit card number. So don’t simply toss them in the trash or leave them on the restaurant table.
- Stay alert.
- If someone bumps into you or “accidentally” spills something on your suit then tries to wipe up the mess, check your pockets. Also, a stranger who touches your hands or wrists in a seemingly flirtatious manner may, in fact, be stealing your ring or watch.
- Use your hand or body to block strangers from watching as you enter a PIN at the ATM.
- Dishonest employees at restaurants or stores may use handheld card skimmers to swipe your credit card and copy the electronic data stored in the magnetic strip. Don’t let your card out of sight or allow it to be swiped twice.
- Carry your backpack or purse in front of you in crowded places. Thieves may try to reach inside your bag while you are distracted. This scam usually occurs on buses or subways.
- Airport safety. Make sure your items don't travel through the X-ray machine faster than you go through your body scan. Always place your personal belongings in the seat pocket in front of you or in an overhead compartment on the opposite side of the aisle you are seating. This way, you can detect any unauthorized search and theft of your personal items during the flight.
- Use secure Internet sites. Look for https:// in the URL and the yellow lock icon. Avoid transmitting private information over a wireless hotspot unless you have no other option, and then be sure to manually pick a secure, password-protected connection.
WHEN YOU RETURN
- Check your accounts for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals. Use the receipts you saved to evaluate your bills.
- Monitor your credit report. Request an annual free copy of your credit report online from www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228. You’re allowed one report yearly from each of the three major participating bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. You could order all three at once. Or space them out. Order a TransUnion report now. Four months later, order from Experian. Then four months after that, order an Equifax report. Repeat the following year.