Vacations have always been a time of heightened risk, and the digital age has only upped the ante, experts say.
“The Internet has made us shed inhibitions about contact with strangers, and smartphones make the potential for contact practically nonstop,” says Briane Grey, director of corporate security for City National Bank.
The good news is that there are things you can do to make your digital footprint smaller and keep your money and your identity more secure.
Before You Go
In Grey’s view, preparation is critical. Things we do before we lock the front door behind us can make us safer, whether we’re traveling to a nearby resort or three continents away.
1. Contact your bank and credit card providers and let them know where you’ll be and when.
“This prevents the unpleasant experience of having your genuine transactions declined,” Grey says. “It can also prevent imposters from gaining access to your funds when pattern diverges from plan.”
2. Thin that wallet. Limit the items and the information that you carry, so thieves and fraudsters can’t get their hands on it.
Ask yourself if it’s really necessary to take your entire portfolio of cards with you on your trip. And never carry critical items such as your Social Security card, Medicare card or list of passwords. IndependentTraveler.com suggests taking two credit cards on your trip and keeping one in a separate location – locked up in the hotel safe, preferably.
3. Make copies of all the documents you’re traveling with (bank cards, picture ID, passport) and a list of associated account numbers. Leave it with your business manager or a trusted employee, relative or friend.
You want someone who’s just a phone call away to have this information and be in a position to help you in the event of loss or theft. The State Department’s Consular Affairs Bureau publishes a “Traveler’s Checklist” that advises making two photocopies of itineraries and travel documents, leaving one copy at home and carrying the other copy with you.
4. Consider leaving your smart phone securely at home and investing in a budget travel cell phone or tablet to use in its place when visiting countries with higher risk of cyber fraud such as China or Russia.
“Considering all the information we have on our devices, their acquisition can be a big bonanza for the bad guys,” Grey says. “In the case of smartphones, you can prevent this and still reduce the inconvenience of a second phone by having calls forwarded to it.”
While You and the Family Are Away
Have fun and enjoy the pleasures of discovery without forgetting basic prudence.
5. Be choosy about the services you use and the places you go.
It’s always safer to get a taxi from a taxi stand rather than hire those who target you and present themselves as drivers. For similar reasons, it’s preferable to consult guidebooks for accommodations and other services. “Hotels, restaurants and shops with reputations to maintain tend to operate in ways that make the work of identity thieves harder,” Grey says. “The best of all worlds is when you have trusted friends or family in the locale you’re visiting. Their recommendations can be gold.”
6. Don’t treat your hotel room like it’s your home.
It’s a mistake to assume that you can leave valuable or information-rich items out in the open, experts say. If your hotel makes safes available to guests, use them. That includes your passport, when you don’t need to have it with you.
7. Verify front-desk requests for information.
Don’t give any financial information over the phone, including account numbers. It’s not unheard-of for scammers to impersonate hotel staff over the phone. Handle matters requiring sensitive information in person.
8. Bank ATMs are better than freestanding ones.
Skimming remains a threat, and among the highest-risk places the world over are gas stations and cash machines in highly trafficked tourist sites. In addition to being choosy about where you use your cards, be sure to carry chip cards, like the ones City National provides to its clients. The data is encrypted, which provides significant added protection.
9. Limit use of public Wi-Fi networks.
That pleasant coffeehouse or Internet café may be a fraudster favorite. “Don’t pay bills using public Wi-Fi,” Grey says. “Don’t visit any site that requires use of personal financial information. Don’t check your email via public Wi-Fi unless you absolutely have to. And if you do, change passwords at your earliest opportunity, he says.
10. Guard your data with good “digital hygiene.”
Is the data on your laptop encrypted? It should be. Make sure you have “remote wipe” capacity on your smartphone in case it’s lost or stolen.
11. Think of social media as a “dark corner.”
“While you’re away from home, resist the temptation to send digital postcards via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and encourage your children to resist the temptation as well,” Grey counsels, because advertising your whereabouts can put your property and your security at risk. “Save it up for when you’re all back home.”
An experienced traveler himself, Grey believes that these steps can go a long way toward countering the increased personal exposure that comes with traveling.
“When you take basic precautions,” he says, “you make bigger worries into smaller ones. You also make it easier to enjoy your travels and have a good time.”