6 Must-follow steps to avoid identity theft while traveling
There's nothing that will burst your vacation bubble faster than a stolen identity. Identity theft while traveling could cost you days, not to mention dollars, as you try to manage the crisis on your trip. Thankfully, taking a few simple precautions could keep a data breach from ruining your fun in the sun.
Identity theft can be especially worrisome to travelers, who experts say face particular challenges in protecting their personal information. Whether you're planning a business trip or a family vacation, here are some tips to help you avoid identity theft while traveling:
1. Before you leave
Place a hold on your mail, says Danielle Rudd with the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Florida. "When criminals see an overflowing mailbox, they see an easy way to steal personal information," she said. Don't advertise your travel plans on social media, either.
When packing, don't put your full name and address on your luggage tags. Rudd says only your last name and phone number are needed.
2. Stay password safe
Rudd recommends leaving your laptop at home, but if you need it, update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. "Don't access bank accounts from your laptop while in a hotel room, at a coffee shop or other public location," she said. "Connecting to free Wi-Fi zones can endanger you because of the transparency between your device and the owner of the connection."
The same goes for your phone. "Make sure your smartphone has a strong password and security software," said Steven Weisman, an attorney, professor at Bentley University and author of 50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age.
3. Use that safe
If you've stayed in a hotel, you've probably noticed many rooms have a safe for your personal belongings. Use it, experts say. Carry only necessities in your wallet, such as your credit card and driver's license. Never carry your social security card in your wallet.
4. Watch that plastic
Use only bank ATMs. "These are least likely to have been tampered with," Rudd said. Weisman recommends using a credit card rather than a debit card. "A credit card provides more protection if its security is compromised," he said. If you have a card that is both a credit and debit card, Weisman says you should only use it as a debit card if it's at a bank ATM. "You receive more consumer protections in regard to defective goods if you use a credit card than a debit card."
5. Be alert to scams
Watch for the call from the front desk where you are told there is a problem with your credit card and you need to provide the number again over the phone. "The call is from an identity thief — not the front desk," Weisman said.
Beware of fliers slipped under your hotel room door as well. While they are advertising pizza delivery, they may only want your credit card number.
6. Take these final steps
"Tear up and discard used boarding passes," Rudd said. "Many travelers leave boarding passes behind in airplanes or hotels. They often contain full names and other personal information."
Keep all receipts from the trip, and watch out for any billing irregularities.
Updated by Bethany Ramos on 1/25/2016