7 Ways You Put Your Identity at Risk on Vacation
The vacation you've saved and planned for is finally here, and you're ready to relax -- which is why it's especially bad that identity thieves are ready to go to work. They know that chances are your guard is down, at least a little, making it a perfect time for them to take advantage of that opportunity.
Here are some very real ways you might be putting your identity at risk when you're on vacation:
1. Telling Too Many People
By this we mean -- at the very least -- Facebook. How many "friends" do you have? And how many do they have? Those check-ins from the airport? Pictures from the cruise? A potential identity thief knows you're not at home. Identity thieves might even know when your plane lands and how long it will be before you come home if they happen to be friends with a friend of a friend of a friend.
2. Not Telling Enough People
While broadcasting your absence from home isn't wise, neither is failing to alert the post office or your credit card issuers that you will be away. Some credit card issuers will view activity in another area or country or geographic area and shut down your card -- and that's the last thing you want on vacation. And preapproved credit card offers or card statements isn't something you'd like for someone to be able to simply lift from your unattended mailbox.
3. Using Insecure Public Wi-Fi Networks
Whether you're checking email or (we hope not) uploading photos for Facebook, it's easy to let your excitement get the better of you and forget about basic precautions when using public Wi-Fi. Worse, as long as you're connected, you may be tempted to check credit card activity or the balance in your checking account. If the network you're on isn't secure, you could be taking a big, big risk.
4. Losing Your Mobile Device
You probably just intended to put it down for a second. Your regular routines that keep things from disappearing have been abandoned and ... maybe it's in the pocket of a jacket that's at your hotel, or do you think perhaps it slipped under the seat of the rental car you turned in yesterday? Losing a device is bad enough. Losing a device that contains an identity thief's jackpot -- email, social media, banking apps, contact lists, photos, etc. -- is much worse. And the worst of all possible worlds? Losing a device that's not password-protected and has your open email accounts available for perusal by anyone who picks it up.
5. Being Careless With Sensitive Information
You don't have to have a security clearance to deal daily with sensitive information, and it's easy to leave it lying around. Taking a cruise or staying in a hotel? You may think you don't have sensitive information in your cabin or room if your credit card is with you, but your itineraries, rental car contracts and hotel bills all contain personal data. If someone calls you telling you that you need to pay a bill, don't assume it's legitimate. Either make the call to that company yourself or pay in person. And remember -- just because a person is wearing a uniform doesn't necessarily mean they are an employee. Exercise caution. If you are using your own car for vacation, be sure you remove registration paperwork and other personal data from the glovebox before valet parking. Overkill? Perhaps, but it's simpler to do that than to untangle an identity theft mess.
6. Credit Card Missteps
Skimmers at gas stations continue to be a problem, and tourist spots are a favorite target. Carrying every credit card you have can be a mistake as well. There's nothing wrong with matching rewards to spending to maximize what you can get, but be careful with those cards. Consider setting mobile alerts for every single card transaction while you are away. That password-protected phone you are not going to lose can be your friend. Finally, be sure that you have copies of credit cards you bring (front and back). You can take a picture and store that information in a (password protected) file, so in the event the physical card is stolen, you have all the information you need to contact your issuer. You could consider bringing a card you plan to use, along with a backup should anything happen to it. Keep these in different places so that if you lose one, you do not necessarily lose the other. Here's what you really, really don't want: for someone to snatch your wallet, which contains all your credit cards, plus the paper where you dutifully recorded all the card numbers and issuer phone numbers. Keep things separate.
7. Not Being Super-Careful With Your Debit Card
A debit card, particularly a prepaid one, can help you stick with a budget because you can't spend more than is loaded on the card. It can ensure that you will resist the temptation to spend more than you planned and that you won't receive a bigger-than-you-remembered bill after you return home. But debit cards take the money out almost instantaneously, and if a thief gets a hold of the number they can drain the balance. If you are counting on those funds to pay for your travel expenses you could find yourself in a bind. So if you anticipate being in a transaction situation in which the card will be out of your possession, you might want to consider using cash or a credit card. Of all the cards in your wallet, a debit card is one you need to monitor extra carefully.
Keep an eye on your accounts to look for unauthorized expenses. It's also helpful to check your credit reports and credit scores regularly -- if someone were to, say, max out a credit card without your knowledge -- it could negatively impact your credit score. You can keep an eye on your credit by seeing your free credit report summary, which is updated every month on Credit.com. Remember: Do all of this from a secure Internet connection. With a little planning, you can minimize the risk that your vacation memories will be tainted by having to clean up a mess made by identity thieves.
Gerri Detweiler is Credit.com's director of consumer education.