There are a number of ways identity theft could occur during a vacation. The common thread that connects them all is that they occur because someone’s guard was down.
“It can happen in a wide variety of ways,” said Steven Toporoff, an attorney in the Privacy and Identity Protection division of the Federal Trade Commission. “Often they have their purse or wallet stolen. It usually happens when they aren’t paying attention, it only takes a second.”
Here are some tips to protect your identity while on spring break — and on any vacation:
- Don’t spread word about your trip: As exciting as it might be to tell your social media friends about your getaway destination, it’s also a good way to put thieves on alert. Talking about a vacation in a public online forum is akin to putting a sign on your front lawn that says, “This house will be empty for two weeks in April!” Don’t let on to potential criminals that your personal belongings will be unguarded and vulnerable.
- Put your mail on hold: The post office can put a vacation hold on your mail for the time you will be away. This way important mail isn’t piling up in your mailbox, where anyone could reach in and steal it.
- Put lights on a timer: Timed lights will turn on during certain times of the day or night to make it look like you are home.
- Use credit cards: Credit card security features make them safer than flashing cash around, whether you’re traveling within the country or abroad. If cash is stolen it cannot be replaced. Credit cards, on the other hand, are quickly canceled, and you aren’t held liable for unauthorized transactions. Make sure to tell your credit card company that you are going out of town so that they don’t freeze your account when they see charges from an unfamiliar location.
- Don’t use standalone ATMs: The easy accessibility of standalone ATMs makes it easy for thieves to install card readers on the machine. If you need an ATM find one that is located inside a bank.
- Scams: Keep an eye out for suspicious attempts to access your information. For example, a call from the front desk of the hotel requesting your credit card information because your payment didn’t go through. Always verify the information of the person you are speaking to, and perform all transactions in person, if possible.
- Keep personal documents close: Don’t leave personal documents in your hotel room, since you can never be sure who might gain entrance. Keep your license and passport on your person whenever you go out.
- Don’t take important documents: You will naturally need some papers while you travel, like your passport if you are leaving the country. However, any documents that you do not need should be left at home or in a safety deposit box at your bank. For example, your Social Security card rarely needs to travel with you.
- Keep public Wi-Fi use to a minimum: You should never access sensitive information over an unsecured Wi-Fi network. Don’t log in to your bank’s website, do any online shopping or type information like your Social Security number when using a public internet connection.