By Karen Barney, communications coordinator, Identity Theft Resource Center
Ah, the pleasure of travel; the much-needed vacation time for escape and recreation. Unfortunately, it is also a prime time for identity thieves to take advantage of your relaxed defenses against identity theft.
While you may have your own personal checklist for travel, passport, tickets, itinerary, etc., there is also a suggested tip list for minimizing your vulnerability while you travel.
Top Five Tips for Safer Travel
• Make back up copies of your travel materials. Carry photocopies of all travel documents including plane tickets, hotel reservations and passports. Keep these in a separate location from the originals.
• Leave checkbooks and checks at home, in a locked safe. When making purchases, use cash, traveler’s checks or credit cards for purchases. This also means leave your bills at home. Many times travelers often take advantage of quiet evenings in hotels to catch up with bookkeeping and paying bills. Unfortunately many people have access to your room while you are away from your room.
• Consider restricting the use of your ATM card to securely located Automated Teller Machines. Fake ATM machines are known to have been placed in high traffic tourist areas. Debit cards also provide thieves with a direct pipeline to your bank accounts. When used with a PIN, you need not sign for the purchase. When used for a “credit” purchase with a signature, no confirming PIN is needed. This is why debit cards are deemed valuable to thieves. It is more difficult and time consuming to resolve fraudulent purchases made with debit cards.
Credit cards are the preferable way to pay for your travel expenses. Only credit cards are protected by federal law as to the amount of money that you are responsible for if lost or stolen, and most companies now extend a zero liability policy to customers.
• Be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets can be found in most major cities and tend to focus on high traffic areas that attract business or vacation travelers. Some studies indicate that wallets stolen in tourist spots frequently lead to identity theft. These professionals aren’t interested in cash. They want your SSN, checks and driver’s license.
Vacation travelers should use fanny packs or travel pouches that are worn inside your shirt to carry important documents. Business travelers should be aware that pickpockets are also looking for laptops and PDA’s that are temporarily out of your control- at airports, in lobbies and in dining areas.
• On the home-front, put your mail on “postal hold” stating that for a period of time you wish to have your mail held at the post office. This also holds true for newspapers and any other automatic deliveries, such as bottled water.