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Vacationing in the digital age

Summer vacation is all about getting away from it all… or at least it used be. Technology has changed all of that. Thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops, the ability to keep in touch with the day-to-day happenings back home is available wherever you go.

Mom on phone and computer at the beach

Contributed by Becky Frost

The reality is many 21st century families want or need to text, check email and update social media accounts, even when the goal of taking a vacation is to take a break from our everyday lives. However, be aware that your online activity while on the road can put you at a higher risk of having your identity stolen if you’re not careful.

Identity theft is a serious crime that can affect even children and can have a lasting negative impact. Just one important piece of information, like a Social Security card, a driver’s license or a bank account statement, can provide a criminal what he or she needs to steal someone’s identity. What’s worse is victims may not realize their identities have been stolen for weeks, months or years after the fact, allowing the crime to perpetuate and destroy their credit. The good news is there are actions you can take to help protect you and your family members’ identities while on vacation — and anywhere else you may be mobile and online. Experian’s ProtectMyID suggests implementing the following tips to avoid your identity falling into the wrong hands.

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Get your own

Consider a portable router to create your own Wi-Fi hotspot for your own or your family’s devices. You’ll need a local SIM data card, which is available at most electronic stores or even airport kiosks. This will help you avoid using public Wi-Fi spots.

Don’t welcome hackers

If you use public Wi-Fi, be very cautious of using unsecured networks. According to a 2012 Norton Cybercrime report, more than two-thirds of online adults use a free or unsecured Wi-Fi network, giving hackers free access to the networks. Make sure you are logging into a secured or private network when you use Wi-Fi. If you aren’t sure, don’t visit sites that contain sensitive information, like bank accounts.

Be careful about being social

Using social media while you travel can be a great way to share your family’s trip but remember — checking in or posting pictures can alert someone that your home is vacant! Make sure to set your home alarm, hire a house-sitter or maybe the best option is to delay posts until you are back home. If you do really want to share these photos while you are on vacation, make sure to set your privacy settings to “friends” only. This will help limit the number of people who actually see these pictures.

Make sure it’s legit

Before logging onto a website from your mobile device, make sure the URLs are legit. There are plenty of URL spoof sites out there, created in order to steal your information. Unfortunately mobile browsers do not show the URL, so it is best to bookmark your favorite sites after you type in the address.

Guard your social networks

If you have a blog or social accounts — such as Facebook and Twitter — use the highest security settings possible to ensure your information, posts and photos aren’t being leaked onto the internet.

Pick strong passwords

Use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols and punctuation marks to make your passwords harder to crack.

Protect your mobile devices

Losing your mobile phone, tablet or laptop can be just as bad as losing your wallet. Be sure to protect your mobile devices with strong passwords and encryption. Consider installing wiping software on your mobile device so that you can remove your information remotely if your phone is lost.

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Avoid skimming

If you have to use an ATM during your travels, be sure that it is in a secure location, and whenever possible, use one stationed at a bank branch. Fake ATMs are known to have been placed in high-traffic tourist areas. Shield your pin entry with your other hand to avoid shoulder surfers.

Technology is an amazing and powerful tool that continues to expand our world and interactions with our family and friends — but understanding the dangers that accompany it is a must to keep ourselves safe. While these tips are geared to help keep your vacation on course in creating great memories, it’s important to realize they’re becoming more important to implement in our everyday lives. Being proactive in protecting your family’s identity will help keep you a step ahead in the digital age.

About the author: Becky Frost is senior manager of consumer education for Experian’s ProtectMyID.

More about identity theft and internet safety

Keeping kids safe in an online world
Snapchat: What parents need to know
Facebook and kids: How young is too young?

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