How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off While Traveling
Follow these steps to protect your identity, finances and home when you're on vacation.
When you’re traveling, you’re likely thinking about all the ways you can have fun – not about the ways your identity can get stolen, your vacant home can get ransacked or your credit cards can get swiped. However, you are more at risk of becoming a victim of theft while on vacation because your mind is on the pool rather than what you need to do to protect yourself, says Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911 and Credit.com.
That’s why you need to take precautions before you leave town as well as while you’re traveling to safeguard your finances and your personal information. Here are several preventive measures you should consider:
Before you go on vacation
Contact your bank and credit-card companies to let them know where you are going and how long you will be there. This will help prevent your financial institutions from freezing your accounts for unusual activity.
Clean out your wallet. Levin recommends taking no more than two credit or debit cards with you. Keep one card in the hotel safe, or well hidden in your room if no safe is available, so you’ll have a way to pay for things if the card you’re carrying is stolen. Leave other personal information, such as your Social Security card, at home (see 8 Things Not to Keep in Your Wallet). Keep a list of the phone numbers for your credit-card company and your bank separate from your wallet. If traveling abroad, make sure you have numbers with actual area codes since toll-free lines won't work internationally.
Make copies of important documents such as your passport, driver’s license, health insurance card and tickets. Having access to the information will make it much easier to get replacements in the event of loss or theft. Give a trusted friend or family member copies as well.
Get your gadgets ready to travel. Remove unnecessary files that contain personal information from your phone, tablet or laptop so thieves won’t have access to this information if they steal your device, says Rip Mason, CEO of LegalShield. Download an app to help you track your phone's location and erase data if it's lost or stolen (see 3 Simple Steps to Secure Your Smart Phone).
Prepare your home. If you leave your house unattended, make it look like someone is still there. Keep some lights on or set a timer, and put a hold on your mail and newspapers. If someone agrees to collect your mail for you, Levin says make sure it’s a person you trust not to open it. A week's worth of mail can be rife with account numbers, balances and other personal information.
Don’t share vacation plans on social media. Announcing on Facebook that you’re taking a trip is like extending an invitation for people to burglarize your home. And wait until you return from vacation to post pictures of your trip. For more, see 5 Facebook Posts That Put You at Risk.
While you’re traveling
Be selective about ATMs. Levin says travelers should avoid generic ATMs, which might be set up by thieves to steal account information. He also says that you shouldn’t use bank ATMs that aren’t physically connected to a financial institution. That’s because it’s easier for thieves to access stand-alone ATMs and install skimming devices that can capture card information. For more, see How to Guard Against Card Skimmers.
Avoid public Wi-Fi connections. It’s smart to check your accounts for suspicious activity while you’re traveling, but Mason says that you should avoid using public Wi-Fi to access your financial accounts online. If you do, you’re putting your usernames, passwords and other personal information at risk of being stolen. These shared networks make it easy for hackers to see everything you’re doing. Use your phone’s 3G or 4G service to access the Web for a more secure connection.
Guard against hotel scams. One travel scam on the rise, says Mason, is receiving a call on your hotel room's phone supposedly from the front desk. The caller will claim he needs your credit-card information again even though you already gave it at check-in. If you receive such a call hang up and go down to the front desk in person to see if the information is in fact needed again. Mason says travelers should also be suspicious of restaurant menus slipped under hotel doors. If you place a phone order, the person on the other end of the line could use your credit-card number to make fraudulent charges. Insist on paying in cash, or ask the front desk for legitimate delivery menus.
Your vacation home isn't your castle. Keep in mind that many people – from housekeeping to maintenance to property managers – can go through your hotel room or rental property during the day, Levin says. So don’t leave out computers, jewelry, money or anything displaying personal information. Put valuable items in the room safe or hotel safe. If you’re staying at a property without access to a safe, be creative about where you hide things.