Please note: This is an update to an article previously published by Equifax in March 2015.
Many people look forward to a relaxing summer vacation abroad. While travelers commonly focus on saving money for their big getaway and planning their activities down to the hour, they don’t often consider preparing for the risk of identity theft.
Identity theft can occur when you are traveling if someone obtains and uses your personal information, such as your date of birth or Social Security number, in order to hijack your existing bank accounts or create new ones under your name. The risk of identity theft increases in foreign countries because travelers tend to carry sensitive documents, such as passports, driver’s licenses, and bank cards, in unfamiliar circumstances.
There is actually a huge market for stolen passports abroad. Interpol, the largest international police organization, keeps a database of stolen passports. Started in 2002, the database now has more than 68 million records. From January to September 2016, it was searched more than 1.2 billion times, Interpol said, and resulted in more than 115,000 positive responses.
Preventing identity theft when traveling abroad requires careful planning and preparation. In order to help better protect your identity when traveling overseas, consider the following:
Don’t carry too much identifying information. As an international traveler, you need to carry more personal information than usual, including your passport and several payment methods. But you should leave any credit cards and checkbooks you don’t absolutely need at home. In addition, people who travel for business should avoid carrying bills or work documents that could put their personal information at risk.
Never use your passport as collateral or a deposit. If a rental agency requires a passport, always provide a photocopy. While you’ll want to keep photocopies of your passport with you as you travel, you should also leave one with a friend or family member at home. That way, if your passport is lost or stolen, you can easily access the information and start the process of obtaining a new one.
Use your credit card for major purchases. Most credit card companies provide fraud protection, so if a thief swipes your credit card and racks up fraudulent charges, you won’t be responsible. Don’t forget to pack your credit card issuer’s contact information because if your credit card is lost or stolen, you will need to be able to alert the issuer as quickly as possible. And don’t forget to let your credit card company know you’re traveling abroad.
Be wary of ATMs that are not located in a bank. Identity thieves have been known to install skimming devices and cameras on ATMs that aren’t protected by a bank in order to swipe card information and PINs. Fraudsters also have installed fake ATMs in high-traffic tourist areas in order to steal card details.
Avoid public Wi-Fi. Travelers often rely on Internet cafes and public WiFi in order to stay connected while on the go. But according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, free public WiFi could provide a hacker with easy access to the information on your computer because public networks are often unsecured and lack password protection and a firewall. Hackers can also set up networks with strong wireless signals to lure in victims. To better protect yourself, only connect to a secure network from a known provider. If you do have to use an unsecured network while on your trip, do not access your bank accounts or any email with sensitive information.
Password-protect your cellphone. If lost or stolen, your cellphone could grant an identity thief easy access to your bank accounts, email, and any trip materials. Set up a password to unlock your phone, and guard your device just like you would your passport and any other documents with sensitive information.
Don’t leave information in your rental car or hotel room. A surprising number of people have access to your hotel room, and it’s not difficult for thieves to spot rental cars. Any information that you can’t carry with you should be stored in a hotel safe or lockbox.
Rip up and cross-shred old boarding passes, and only use your last name on luggage. People are constantly passing through international airports, and your luggage or boarding pass could provide identity thieves with information including your name, home address and phone number.
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.