By Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Summer travel is full of sun and fun, but a stolen passport or hacked email account can quickly dampen the experience. Having personal information compromised while on the road is relatively common.
A recent study by ProtectMyID, the identity theft protection unit of credit bureau Experian, found that 20 percent of consumers have had a driver’s license, passport, credit card or other document with personal info lost or stolen while traveling. Nearly 40 percent have had their identity stolen or been victimized in some way, or know of someone who did.
Here’s what you can do to make sure thieves don’t ruin your vacation:
––Pack sparingly. You may spend a lot of time strategizing how to keep your bag light, but experts say just as much care should be taken with your wallet. According to the survey, 47 percent of travelers do not remove unnecessary credit cards from their wallet before leaving for a trip. A quarter of people travel with their Social Security cards.
The advice: Bring only the essentials, including a limited number of debit and credit cards. Leave your Social Security card at home. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen not all of your personal information will be compromised.
––Use free Wi-Fi carefully. If you’re like me, you probably look for free Wi-Fi wherever you travel. But be careful when using it, experts say.
“Much of your information will be visible to anyone with the right tools as it moves across the wireless network,” said Dave Dean, a world traveler and co-founder of Too Many Adapters, a technology resource for travelers.
The advice: Connect to the Web through a virtual private network. A VPN encrypts all of the information that passes between you and a wireless network, wherever that network is in the world. VPN software from Witopia goes for as little as $5.99 per month.
––Avoid public computers. The public computer in a hotel or hostel may be a nice convenience if you’re traveling without your laptop, but by using one you’re putting yourself at major risk.
“You just don’t know what is installed on that computer,” Dean said. Risks include key-logging software that saves your login details, security updates that are not installed, and no or out-of-date antivirus software.
He added: “These are not hypothetical risks. I’ve seen them myself in Internet cafes and hostels around the world.”
The advice: If you have no other option but to use a public computer, do so only for the most innocent of reasons, such as researching restaurant options. Do not connect to your online bank account or enter any personal financial information. If you check your email, make sure to reset the password — from a secure device — soon after.
––Make copies of important documents. No matter how careful you are when traveling, sometimes personal items go missing.
“Identity theft is a crime of opportunity, and thieves prey upon vacationers,” said Becky Frost, consumer education manager for Experian’s ProtectMyID.
If your passport or credit card is lost or stolen on a trip, time is of the essence. The sooner you contact the local embassy or consulate or call your bank, the sooner you can get a replacement, as well as stop any unlawful use of your information.
The advice: Make photocopies of your passport and credit cards and store those copies securely somewhere, like the hotel safe. Alternatively, you could scan copies of your passport and cards, encrypt the copies and save them online.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: You don’t want this to be spoiled by identity theft. SandeePachetan/Flickr