Identity theft is defined as a crime of obtaining and using the personal and/or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s identity in order to make transactions or purchases.
Once an identity is stolen, the thief can ruin that person’s credit rating and the good standing of other personal information.
There are many ways to become the victim of identity theft – and most of us guard against those when we’re at home: we apply and update our passwords, we examine and carefully shred all bills and financial documents, and we are careful where and how we use our ATM and credit cards.
When you travel, however, you lose a measure of control because you’re in a different environment with different risks. So, how do you best guard against identity theft when you travel?
Frequent travelers often carry a lot in their briefcase or work bag, including bills that came in the mail before they left. Many people assume that hotel rooms are safe places to leave documents and papers, but they’re not. More people than you realize have access to room keys and you shouldn’t leave anything with account numbers, home addresses, or other personal identifying information in the room.
Then, follow these expert safety tips for securing your home before you leave.
You won’t need your social security card, your grocery savings card, your blood donor card and more. In fact, all of those simply give a thief who gets your wallet even more personal information to go on to make your identity their own.
Consider going to far as to employ a fake wallet. Put a few small bills and some expired cards in there. Carry this wallet with you and keep the other wallet hidden in your money belt or deeper pockets. If mugged, you can easily hand the thief the fake wallet with confidence knowing the real goods are safe.
These days, we can carry a whole lot of data on our smart phones, tablets, laptops, even our MP3 players and flash drives. Those are also small, portable items that are easy to lose and easy to steal. You may do everything right to secure your home when you leave, but if you’re posting to Facebook with pictures from a beach in Bora Bora, you might as well have left the front door wide open.
While you’re gone, avoid using public computers and public wi-fi spots. Key logging software records the keystrokes, including when you’re typing a password while accessing a private account, and makes it possible for identity thieves to steal access to your checking account while you’re standing in line for your morning espresso.
Scam artists employ a range of confusing tricks to catch people off guard hoping to get credit card numbers and other personal data. A phone call in the middle of the night to verify your card might not really be from the hotel front desk. A text saying your account has been compromised might not be from your bank.
These days, you just have to avoid anything that sounds too good to be true – from a private art auction to free nights in a time-share to starring as your own travel agent – think carefully about what you could be getting yourself into.
Even if you couldn’t check your accounts while you were gone, thieves are relatively patient and happy to take a break to let you settle into your routine at home before they pounce. Just because you’re home doesn’t mean it’s time to let your guard down.
Some travel insurance plans include coverage for identity theft. Of course, this coverage is useful after your identity is compromised and it’s best to avoid that situation altogether if at all possible.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.