With June behind us and school wrapped for another year, families across the country are undoubtedly planning, if not already packing, for their summer vacations in July and August. Whether traveling to a new state, new country or just to the local beach, there’s no better time of year than now to take that long overdue vacation.
Unfortunately, just as summer vacation is prime time for having fun, seeing new places and making lifelong memories, it’s also prime time for identity theft. According to a new study cited by The Chicago Tribune, an alarming 20 percent of people lose some form of personal information as they travel, ranging from driver’s licenses and passports to credit cards. Approximately 40 percent of the study’s participants said they had also been the victims of ID theft at some point in their lives, or knew someone who had their identity stolen.
The overlap between these two groups is no coincidence. Traveling to a new city, state or country for summer vacation may be a great way to broaden your horizons, but it also means you’re a stranger in a strange land, providing an excellent opportunity for identity thieves to take advantage and steal some crucial piece of personally-identifying information from you when you least suspect it.
Summer vacation should be calm and relaxing, but don’t let that R&R lower your guard and make you vulnerable. Here are three ways to better protect your identity while you’re out and about this summer:
- Be wary of free Wi-Fi: If you’re traveling abroad and don’t want to incur expensive international charges for using your phone, free Wi-Fi can seem like a blessing, but be careful. A free wireless network is also an unprotected wireless network. You never know who may be looking at the data you’re transmitting back and forth, or worse, copying it for their own means. If you need to use the internet while you’re away, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your information so that, no matter where you connect to Wi-Fi, your data will be secured from prying eyes.
- Don’t bother with public computers: Internet cafes and hostel computers may seem harmless, but you have no idea whether or not they’ve been installed with keylogging software that can record private information you’re typing in. Or they may simply not be up-to-date on their security and antivirus protections, leaving the computer — and whatever information you enter into it — susceptible to theft via spyware. If you absolutely have to use a public computer, keep it for simple, harmless searches. Don’t check your bank statements or do something that requires entering financial information. Avoid checking your email, but if you need to, make sure to reset your password immediately after — and do so from another device rather than the computer in question, otherwise the identity thief will just capture that new password as well.
- Only pack the essentials Nearly half of the survey’s respondents said they travel with unnecessary credit cards in their wallets, and about 25 percent said they have their Social Security cards with them while traveling. Leave these at home. Bring only a driver’s license or passport (depending on where you’re going) and a limited number of credit cards. This way, in the event your wallet is stolen, the worst case scenario won’t leave you as susceptible to credit fraud or identity theft than if you were traveling with all of those cards. Additionally, if possible, only travel with credit instead of debit cards. It’s easier to dispute fraudulent charges made on a stolen credit card than a debit card.
Before leaving on your travels for the summer, sign up with a credit monitoring services that can alert you of certain activity on your credit file that might indicate identity fraud.