Friday, October 4, 2013

Keep your money and identity safe when traveling

Although we are aware of the possibility of identity theft when shopping near home or on the Internet, it’s easy to become lax when traveling. You’re on vacation, after all, and theft usually isn’t foremost in your mind. But it should be. Travelers are actually very susceptible.  
Here are some tips to give you peace of mind while enjoying new adventures.

  • Notify your bank prior to leaving about where you are going and how long you will be gone. This is especially important if you are traveling overseas because the credit card company could deny your card if they detect charges in a foreign country that are deemed suspicious, even if they are legitimately yours. You could be left without the ability to use the card, even for your hotel stay.
  • Take the phone number of your bank in case you need to report a theft. Make photocopies of your credit cards, front and back, so you’ll have the customer service number to call and card number to report.
  • Take cash in small bills, and don’t put it all in one place. When going out put some money in your wallet and other bills in a money belt that wraps around your waist under clothing. Hidden zippered are usually okay, especially if in the front of your garment. Your checked suitcase is especially vulnerable to unscrupulous baggage agents.
  • Leave your checkbook, Social Security card and any credit cards you don’t plan to use at home. Don’t let credit cards out of your sight.
  • Know local conversion rates, and beware of locals who offer to help you with conversion. That’s most likely a scam.
  • Lessen risk of using bogus ATMs that can swipe your number to use later; stick with hotels or banks to get cash from ATMs.
  • Keep your smart phone or iPad with you in a secure place, or put it in the safe in your hotel room. These devices store a lot of information about you--your likes and habits, where you have been or are going, and shopping preferences—that thieves could use to steal your identity. Using a variety of passwords that are at least eight characters long also deters hackers.
  • Be careful not to leave your phone on a restaurant table or store counter —or even in your purse unless it’s in an enclosed or zippered pocket (forget about handbags with phone pockets on the outside). Don’t make it easy for a thief to snatch your phone and be gone before you realize what happened.
  • Make sure virus protection and malware are active and you’ve downloaded the latest updates, especially if using a public WiFi network. Even checking email may provide crafty thieves with the means to find out credit card or social security numbers.
  • Avoid checking your bank account, paying bills, or making purchases online when traveling as public WiFi networks are notoriously unsecure. If possible, pay bills before you leave or set automatic payment to kick in while you’re away.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Know where you are going, and avoid unsafe areas or shortcuts.
The inability to use credit cards when traveling can become a real hassle. Identity theft can also be a major inconvenience or, even worse, it can cost you money, affect your credit, and make your life miserable for a long time (even years) while the situation is resolved.

Take precautions prior to and during travel to safeguard your finances. You can purchase identity theft protection to guard against fraud, but the best solution is prevention. That means being aware of what’s on your technological devices and actively working to keep your money, accounts, and personal information secure.

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