June 13, 2017

 

The warm weather is finally here and with it comes the busy travel season that so many people have excitedly been anticipating. Some have been planning for months in advance, booking flights abroad and hoping to fit as many countries as they can into their itineraries.

Be cautious of being a target for identity thieves before you start to head out on your summer adventure. Travelers are an extremely attractive target for identity thieves, especially if you’re traveling to a place you’ve never ventured to before. Any locals – or scammers! – can probably pick up on this. Many travelers also rely on public Wi-Fi to look things up pertaining to their trip. Add to this the fact that you are likely carrying around more documentation than usual, and you’ve got all the makings for a sizable bull’s eye on their back.

An American Express Spending & Saving Tracker revealed that 8 in 10 Americans have summer travel plans, with 72% of these planning stateside escapes and 15% traveling overseas. No matter how you dice it, there’s going to be a lot of movement in the skies and on the roads in the coming summer months.

With millions of people packing their bags and leaving their homes for adventures, retreats and getaways, there will surely be an uptick in opportunities for identity thieves this summer. Experian’s Summer Travel and Budget survey showed that identity theft personally affects nearly one in ten travelers and that one in five people have had sensitive information lost or stolen while traveling.

Below are quick identity protection tips for each stage of your summer travels and adventures:

 BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Check for any travel warnings or alerts for your destination country. The Department of State provides the latest security messages. It’s always best to be in the know about any crime – such as pick pocketing – happening in your destination country so that you can be as vigilant as possible.
  • Put only your last name and phone number on your luggage tags. Your full name and address are one too many personal details if put in the wrong hands.
  • Notify your bank and credit card companies of your travel plans. Many such companies now place freezes on accounts when they see suspicious activity like out-of-country use as a means to prevent fraud – it’s easy to avoid this inconvenience!
  • Don’t post any vacation plans on social media. It’s okay to be excited about your trip, but you don’t need to publicize it. You never know who could be lurking behind a computer screen happy to learn that your house will be unattended for a period of time.
  • Put a hold on your mail while you’re gone. An overflowing mailbox is a jackpot for an identity thief. It not only signifies that you’re away, but thieves can then steal the pieces that contain your personally identifiable information (PII).
  • Clean out your wallet and/or purse before leaving. Remove any receipts and expired cards, along with anything else you don’t absolutely need to be carrying with you. Keep only the credit and debit cards you know you will need to use while traveling. Less is more!

WHILE TRAVELING:

  • Limit your use of public Wi-Fi as much as possible. While these networks are incredibly convenient, they are very often unsecured. This means that any information you input while connected to the hotspot could be viewed by someone else. Never access your financial account or any other sites that require a password when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Use cash when possible and credit cards over debit cards. Travelers are often warned of the dangers of carrying around large amounts of cash. However, depending on where you are traveling, some merchants still practice questionable transaction processes – making cash a safer method of payment. In most cases though, using a credit card is considered safe. Furthermore, it’s almost always recommended to use the credit option of your card versus the debit option. If your card numbers ever get into the wrong hands, most credit card companies will quickly reverse or cover fraudulent charges, while recovering funds from your drained bank account can be more complicated.
  • Be cautious when using ATMs. Inspect the machine carefully before inserting your card. Fraudsters can attach card skimmers to the slot that capture your information when you insert it; very often, these look like they are part of the machine. Also, always shield the keypad when entering your PIN – scammers can also set up hidden video recorders. The safest ATMs to use are attached to banks in well-lit areas.
  • Lock up valuables and personal documents at the hotel. This includes boarding passes, confirmation emails, passports, and jewelry. Even hotel staff have been known to go through rooms while they are cleaning and steal items. Everything is much more secure in a safe!
  • Keep your phone password-protected. If you’re not the type of person to keep a password guard on your phone, make an exception while traveling. If your phone is ever lost or stolen, an identity thief could easily access banking apps and social media accounts.

WHEN YOU RETURN:

  • Check your credit card and bank statements often for any fraudulent activity. It’s best to catch fraud as early as possible so that you can take action immediately. This minimizes damage and makes resolution that much easier.
  • Check your credit report throughout the year. Federal law requires the three major credit bureaus to provide you with a free credit report once a year. You can stagger these free reports every four months from each bureau so that you’re seeing your report somewhat regularly. Make sure you recognize everything that’s on there – if anything doesn’t ring a bell, look into it!
  • Change your PINs and passwords after a trip. This is especially important if you logged into any accounts while on the road or accessed an ATM. Traveling can open you up to all kinds of vulnerabilities; don’t take the risk with your PINs and passwords.
  • Make sure you properly dispose all trip confirmation emails and boarding passes. This means shredding them before tossing them into the recycling bin. These types of documents contain more information than most people think. Barcodes on boarding passes can actually contain your frequent flyer information, and other such documents reveal itineraries and other personally identifiable information that identity thieves would be happy to misuse.
  • Lastly, now is the time to post about your adventure on social media. Now that you’ve returned, you can share all those stunning snaps you shot. We really do want to hear about how much you enjoyed your vacation!

Of course, nothing compares to the peace of mind you will receive from Optima’s ID Protection Plan, which includes services like suspicious activity alerts and identity monitoring that will provide you with an extra boost of confidence when you return from a trip. Most importantly, if you do fall victim to identity theft, our 24/7 Identity Theft Resolution Service Team will work to restore your identity and prevent further damage.

Learn more and enroll in Optima’s ID Protection Plan at https://optimatax.idprotectiononline.com/enrollment/.