Please note: This is an update to an article previously published by Equifax in June 2013.
This summer, whether you decide to vacation in the U.S. or abroad, there are certain habits that put you at risk of identity theft. Before you disconnect, consider the following:
- Posting status updates about your trip.
Your smartphone or tablet might help you document every minute of your vacation, but status updates, check ins, and alerting friends and family to upcoming plans on social media networks will let thieves know where you are.
If an identity thief has your information, he or she may seize the opportunity to use it while you are on vacation. Waiting until you leave town makes it easier for identity thieves because it may take longer for your financial institutions to alert you of suspicious activity. Experts recommend waiting until you return home to post your photos.
- Traveling with unnecessary documents.
Carrying unnecessary documents, such as your Social Security card, could put you at serious risk if any of them are lost or stolen. Leave your checkbook, library card, and other cards that display your name and address at home.
For those documents that you must bring, such as your passport, take extra precautions to keep them safe. Passports now contain an electronic chip using technology known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), so if you leave the passport in its original sleeve, some thieves can steal your information just by walking past you. Experts say that’s unlikely — a person would have to have an RFID scanner and would have to be within a couple of feet of you – but it is possible.
The U.S. State Department says it’s taken a number of steps to prevent criminals gaining access to electronic passports. But it suggests using an RFID-blocking passport cover as a “simple and effective method” of reducing your risk. RFID-blocking wallets are also available.
- Allowing mail to pile up at home.
If you announce on Facebook that you’re going to Hawaii for two weeks and then let the mail pile up, you make it easy for identity thieves to break into your home and take sensitive information.
You should have the postal service and news outlets hold your mail until you can collect it. This will prevent your house from looking empty and stop thieves from stealing mail that contains sensitive information. Or ask a friend or neighbor to retrieve your mail.
- Using public WiFi to send information over unsecure networks.
If you are traveling in a region that’s not covered by your mobile plan, it’s tempting to use public WiFi. Public WiFi is a risky option because the networks are not typically secured. It’s not difficult for hackers to hijack your documents or email attachments.
If you need to use public WiFi, only send information to encrypted sites and avoid mobile banking. Consider purchasing a one-time, personal VPN service, which allows you to access public WiFi through a private browser. If you use public WiFi frequently, it may be worth your money to purchase a subscription VPN. These services can be purchased online, but do some research and make sure the company is reputable. Lists of the best VPNs and comparisons of the services can be found on sites like CNET and PCMag.com.
- Leaving sensitive information in your hotel room.
Travelers may think their property is safe in the hotel room, but it’s often the least protected place. You should always lock up important documents and laptops in the hotel safe, as well as any valuables.
Identity thieves may also impersonate hotel staff in order to obtain your information. Never give out your account information over the hotel phone, even if the caller claims to be from the front desk.
You also need to be wary with your hotel key card. It used to be common practice to link hotel keys with credit card information. While this is no longer the case in the U.S. due to regulations, many international hotels haven’t changed this practice. When you leave a hotel, take your key card with you.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.