You might feel like you’re walking on a cloud while on vacation. However, nothing can bring you down to Earth faster than finding out identity thieves attacked your credit while you were off enjoying yourself.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014. If you want to avoid being just another statistic, you need to take steps to protect your credit, particularly while you’re traveling. Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep your identity safe, before and during your next vacation. Here are six travel tips that will help protect your credit on the road.
1. Freeze Cards You Won’t Be Using Before Travel
Pack your wallet like you do your suitcase — with extreme care. According to Jason Glassberg, co-founder of Casaba Security, you should freeze credit and debit cards you won’t be using prior to travel.
“If you are bringing multiple cards with you, you are increasing the risk of multiple account takeovers,” he said. “This will happen if you use multiple cards for in-store or online transactions while traveling, but even if you don’t use them, there’s always the possibility they could be lost or stolen.”
By freezing the cards you don’t need, you reduce your risk of suffering identity theft. You can freeze what you don’t plan to use simply by contacting your bank. As a bonus, reducing the amount of plastic you’re carrying serves to lighten your wallet for the upcoming trip.
2. Don’t Log in to Financial Accounts From a Wi-Fi Connection
Connecting to Wi-Fi might seem like a great way to save money on your phone bill, particularly if there are different rates overseas. However, the safest bet for your bottom line is to use your phone’s network while traveling, said Glassberg.
“It is less common for us to see run-of-the-mill criminals using cellular hacking tools — most of them stick with Wi-Fi hacking because it’s far easier and cheaper to do so,” he said. “There’s a lower chance that a criminal will be sitting in a Starbucks, airport terminal or hotel lobby with a modified femtocell (cellular spoofing tool) in their backpack than there is that they will have a laptop equipped with a simple Wi-Fi eavesdropping software tool.”
To protect your privacy and your personal information, turn off the Wi-Fi setting on your phone and disable the option that lets the phone connect to open Wi-Fi networks automatically. To verify your Wi-Fi has been turned off, check for a cellular icon — not a Wi-Fi one — at the top of your screen.
3. Set Up Credit Report Alerts
Most people know how important it is to review your credit scores regularly. However, when you’re on vacation, you might not remember to check your accounts for unusual activity. Credit report monitoring can save you from coming home to find an unpleasant surprise on your record.
“Credit report alerts would benefit a traveler because they would know instantly or near to instantly if a fraudulent account was opened in their name and could resolve the issue quickly, versus finding out about the issue once they returned home from traveling,” said Harrine Freeman, financial expert and founder of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a credit restoration company.
Credit reports notify consumers when fraudulent accounts are opened using their social security numbers, debit or credit cards or when suspicious activity occurs in their names. Freeman recommends using any of the major credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. She also advises consumers to sign up for individual card alerts to find out when balances go below certain values or when large purchases are made.
4. Don’t Give Out Your E-mail
Giving out your email while traveling might seem harmless, but the truth is you could be making yourself a target for phishing attacks, said Glassberg. Phishing emails often have links to websites infected with malware.
If you do need to provide an email address, consider giving out your “junk mail” account.
“A better option here is to have multiple email accounts you use,” said Glassberg. “One should be your designated junk email account. This is what you use whenever you sign up for online sites or special deals, etc. With your primary personal email and work email, try to avoid publishing that online or using it to sign up for things unless necessary.”
Glassberg also recommends having an email solely for financial accounts. Keep this address private to avoid putting your fiscal information — and credit — at risk.
5. Don’t Lose Anything That Identifies You
Carrying items on you while traveling, such as your Social Security card, is basically just asking for trouble. There’s no reason to have it on you, said Glassberg. Instead, he recommends digitizing your card and uploading it to a secure email server, which you can access it, if necessary.
Said Freeman, “If you lose your AAA card, loyalty card, birth certificate or passport, you can still become a victim of fraud. Thieves do not always need a SSN to commit fraud.”
She explains that thieves have access to trace tools that allow them to find your date of birth, address, phone number and Social Security number, and they might only need one piece of information to uncover the rest. Although you might need to travel with a passport, you should do your due diligence to safeguard this and other essential items. You can always use RFID covers for credit cards. They even sell RFID passport sleeves.
6. Use Prepaid Cards
Unlike credit or debit cards, prepaid cards do not link to any personally identifiable information. Hence, using these cards while traveling helps eliminate identity theft because purchases are anonymous, said Freeman.
Along with limiting your credit risk, prepaid cards are more convenient than cash. As an added bonus, traveling with these cards can help you avoid spending more than you intended while on vacation.
“You can purchase a prepaid card from a local retailer such as Target, CVS or a grocery store or purchase a prepaid card online through major credit card companies such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express,” said Freeman.
Keep Reading: 4 Ways to Report Identity Theft