Safety Abroad: Preventing Identity Theft

Thieves and scam artists, adept at praying on vulnerable travelers, may use a variety of tactics to steal personal information from their victims. Take steps to protect yourself on your next trip, to prevent a disaster from ruining the experience.

Use a Travel Wallet

Before you leave on your trip, switch to a special wallet, dedicated to use during travel. This wallet, smaller than your regular wallet and easier to conceal, will contain only a small percentage of the items you may regularly carry with you. Leave your social security card, checkbook or any other unnecessary personal items in your wallet at home and bring a limited number of debit and credit cards. By downsizing your wallet, you’ll have less to worry about if you lose some articles hopping a gondola or become victim of pick pocketing.

Make Preparations

The U.S. Department of State recommends you call your bank, credit card companies and credit protection service before leaving town to alert them of your absence and upcoming change in your spending habits. And in case you lose your cell phone, be sure to set a password or install an app that will report a theft. Apps that serve as a portal to sensitive information, like your bank app and social network apps, are best deleted before you set out on your trip. It’s also a good idea to use a secondary email address while traveling. This will keep your regular emails, and all the secure information in your inbox, separate and secure while you travel.

Safe Use of Electronics

Once on your trip, be watchful when inputting a password into any electronic device, such as an ATM, computer or a phone. According to LifeLock, "Shoulder surfers" may be nearby, watching your movements to read your passwords. Avoid using ATM's in crowded places. ATM's located in banks are preferable to ATM's in stores or outdoor areas. Business center computers are more likely to be infected with malware. Whenever possible, use your own electronic devices, and do not use business center computers to access confidential information.

Use Safe Internet Connections

The Federal Trade Commission encourages travelers to use caution in areas with public Wi-Fi, like hotels, cafes and airports, because they’re frequently not secure. Without regular access to the Internet, you may find it tempting to use these public hotspots to check your email, look in on your bank account or even monitor your bills. Avoid use of websites that reveal personal information, or that provide a direct link to your bank account.

Encrypted websites are more secure and travelers are encouraged to use them. These websites are easy to identify by the "https" found at the beginning of the web address. Take this tip from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Websites that start with only "http" at the beginning of the address are not secure.

Upon Your Return

Check your bank accounts and credit report as soon as you return. Check receipts against purchases on your card and look for suspicious activity on your credit report. The U.S. Department of State recommends that you contact your financial institutions and credit protection service to report your return and advise that any international activity on your card or cards is no longer authorized.

If a Theft Occurs

Hopefully you've written down the international customer service phone numbers for each debit or credit card you had on a separate sheet of paper. In the event that your wallet is stolen, these phone numbers will allow you to quickly freeze your accounts before real damage is done. Your first phone calls will likely be to your bank, credit card companies, and your credit protection service.

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