Tips for avoiding scams and theft while traveling are a staple of the travel writing genre; pretty much every guidebook or travel website dedicates some space to the subject.
But in the 21st century, you are as much at risk of having your identity stolen — or more accurately your financial and digital identity — as you are of getting “mugged,” which almost sounds quaint these days (though I do not intend in any way to underplay the misery and danger of actually getting mugged).
Identity theft is a growing problem worldwide — especially for travelers, who are very vulnerable, forced as they are to use unsecured Internet connections, carry extensive personal documentation with them at all times, and share their credit cards with merchants about whom they know nothing and whom they’ll never see again.
Modern technology hasn’t made it any easier for honest folks to avoid identity theft, either; witness the practice of websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, which often keep you logged in to the site, even after you close your browser or turn off your computer. Someone getting unfettered access to your closest friends on Facebook could definitely shake out some very “helpful” information before you knew it.
As time and technology advance, this problem is only going to affect more travelers.
Here are tips to avoid identity theft while traveling:
“Unpack” Critical Documents Before Travel
If you carry some essential documents with you when you are not traveling — the average wallet or purse might include a Social Security card, bank statements, medical documents, checkbook and the like — remove them before you leave home. Essentially, when it comes to documentation, you want to “unpack” before traveling.
Be Very Careful About Shared and Insecure Internet Connections
This is one thing that I have found very difficult to do – when traveling, it is hard to find connections other than public ones at hotels, cafes, airports, you name it. To see the warning “this connection is unsecured and others may see your information” is almost a staple of the travel experience. The risk applies to anything you type into your keyboard while connected, such as email passwords and website logins.
Use Only Bank ATM’s
A recent trend among identity thieves has been to install card readers in an ATM by which they can access your card number and PIN. This happens most often at non-bank, “generic” ATM’s (in hotels, convenience stores, etc.), which have less oversight and are therefore more vulnerable than bank-run and hosted ATM’s. Stick with the ones at banks; these can still be compromised, but tend to be targeted by thieves much less often.
Change Passwords and PIN’s
You may want to change your passwords after a trip; identity thieves are thought to be very patient criminals, and often wait until you are less likely to pay attention after a few weeks at home.