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Ask Kim

Protect Yourself From Identity Theft When Traveling

Take these seven steps before you leave on a trip to protect your identity and prevent hassles with your debit and credit cards.

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QDo I need to let my bank and credit card company know before I leave for vacation? What else should I do to protect my identity when I’m traveling?

AIt’s a good idea to notify your bank and credit card issuer before you travel. Many financial institutions have increased efforts to protect against fraud, and it’s becoming much more common for them to deny transactions from an unexpected location. Your account may be frozen until you contact the bank to verify your identity and confirm that the purchases are legitimate.

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Before you go on a trip, call the financial institution’s customer service number or notify the bank online of the dates and location of your travel (Wells Fargo, for example, makes it easy to include your travel plans and the best way to contact you at its online banking site). You can also take the following steps to protect your identity when you’re preparing for your trip and while you’re on vacation.

Clean out your wallet. Pickpockets often focus on busy tourist destinations. Keep your wallet in a place that pickpockets can’t easily access, such as a front pocket, and remove anything in it you don’t need that could be valuable to an ID thief, such as blank checks and cards that list your Social Security number. See 8 Things You Should Never Keep in Your Wallet for more information.

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Password-protect your phone, tablet and computer. Make it more difficult for a thief to access your personal information if your devices are stolen.

Stop your mail while you’re gone or have a neighbor collect it for you. An overflowing mailbox not only signals that you’re away from home, but it can also include credit-card or bank account numbers or other personal information an ID thief would find valuable.

Be careful with public computers. Computers could include keystroke-logging software that thieves installed to capture passwords and personal information. Don’t access your bank or credit card accounts or provide any other sensitive personal information on public computers. Use password-protected Wi-Fi at your hotel, and beware of look-alike networks, which may use a name similar to your hotel’s to collect your personal information.

Choose ATMs carefully. Thieves sometimes install skimming software in ATMs to capture your card number and PIN. It’s generally safer to use ATMs at established financial institutions. It’s safer to use your credit or debit card for large purchases than to carry a lot of cash.

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Check your accounts after you return. It’s always important to check your bank and credit card accounts for any suspicious activity, and it’s especially important while you’re traveling and soon after you return from a trip. Notify your card company immediately of any suspicious activity, even if it’s just for a small amount -- it isn’t unusual for thieves to test your card by making a very small charge before using it for larger expenses.

For more information about protecting yourself from ID theft, see Smart Moves to Prevent Identity Theft.

SEE ALSO: 31 Best Travel Sites to Save You Money

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.