With the increasing prevalence of identity theft, information security and travel safety has become a significant field of study. Your biggest concern while you’re traveling may no longer be physical in nature (pickpockets, hotel theft, muggings); the value of the personal identity you carry as you travel is worth far more than the cash in your wallet.
We all love to plan the vacation of our dreams. But there’s one area we often overlook that can turn that long-anticipated dinner into a nightmare — the theft of our most-valuable asset, our identity.
Just imagine: We’ve savored the last bite of pasta and drained our pitcher of the vino rosso locale before presenting our credit card. Our friendly waiter looks concerned as he walks back to our table to tell us that our credit card has been declined.
It doesn’t take us long to discover a thief has maxed out our credit and there is nothing left to pay for our dream. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a backup plan and pay by cash or another credit card. If we are less lucky, the thief has cashed out our bank account as well, has stolen our passport numbers to set up new accounts, or has gained access to a laptop computer full of sensitive personal and workplace data. What were we thinking (or not thinking) by neglecting the key aspects of travel safety?
Traveling safely and preventing identity theft go hand in hand. Because we carry so much identity with us when we travel, because we are much less organized when on the road, and because thieves target travelers, the likelihood of identity theft while on vacation or business travel increases.
Safe Travel 101: Before You Leave Home
1. Travel light! Simplify and minimize what to bring with you. Take as little identity with you as necessary. If possible, leave the following items at home when you travel:
- Checks and checkbooks. Resist the temptation to carry checks or take only one or two for an emergency, carrying them with your cash in your money belt. Checking account takeover is one of the simplest crimes to commit and one of the most devastating types of financial fraud from which to recover. The easy alternative? Use a credit card or cash.
- Debit cards. You can reduce your vulnerability to having your checking account emptied while on vacation by leaving all debit cards (check cards) at home. Don’t be lulled into thinking that debit/ATM cards are safe just because they have a PIN or password. In fact, the only time a PIN is needed to use the card is when it is being used at an ATM. No PIN is required when it is used at a store as a debit or credit card. Be aware, too, that debit cards don’t have the same financial fraud protections as most credit cards. The solution? Ask your bank for an ATM-only debit card (it won’t work in stores, only at an ATM) and make sure your password isn’t seen by anyone else when you are at the ATM. Better yet, use a credit card or cash. The exception to this precaution is when you are traveling in a foreign country and your debit card is the most economical method of obtaining cash from an ATM.
- Extra credit cards. Every piece of identity you take with you creates more sources of potential fraud to which you are exposed. I recommend that if you are traveling with another adult, you each take one credit card. (If possible, take cards from two separate credit card companies. That way, you each carry only one card that can be lost or stolen, but you have a backup card if the other person’s card is lost, stolen or shut down because of fraud.) Make sure that your credit card company knows the dates and places you are traveling so that they don’t shut it down when charges are made out of town. Also, make sure you have a large enough credit line to cover your purchases while traveling.
- Social Security cards. You do not need your Social Security card while traveling (or at any time other than your first day of work with a new employer), so leave it locked up at home.
- Bills. Don’t try to take bills to pay while traveling.
- Identity documents. Leave birth certificates, passports (unless travelling internationally), library cards, receipts, and other identity documents at home while you travel. Anything you don’t absolutely need should be left at home locked in a fire safe. If you can travel with only a credit card, driver’s license and health insurance card (as long as it doesn’t have your SSN on it), you will be much safer.
2. Photocopy the contents of your wallet/documents. You could also make a list of all the contents and all your travel documents to carry with you in a secure place as you travel. It’s also a good idea to leave a copy at home with a trusted person whom you can contact. It will save you hours of frustration if anything is lost or stolen.
3. Hold the mail. Your mailbox is an identity bonanza. Before you leave, place a “postal hold” on your mail so that your mailbox isn’t vulnerable while you are gone. Arrange with your post office that you (or your spouse) are the only people allowed to pick up your mail. Don’t have it “mass-delivered” the day after you return, as this puts everything at risk all at once. Instead, pick it up at the post office once you return.
4. Don’t broadcast on your whole social networking sites. Don’t put an “Away on vacation” note on your social networking sites just as you wouldn’t tack one to your front door. Broadcasting this information opens the door to criminals using that information while you are away. Think twice about any information you share on social networking sites.
John Sileo became America’s leading identity theft speaker and expert after he lost his business and more than $300,000 to identity theft and data breach. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and the FDIC. To further bulletproof yourself and your business, visit John’s blog at Sileo.com and receive a free white-paper: “Privacy Means Profit: Safe Data = Profitable Data.”