Identity Theft

Identity theft is a huge problem that can affect your life both at home and on your travels. Since this website is about travel, we will concentrate our discussion in this area.

Most all tickets and reservations are done online and that's the first place where you start giving out your credit card numbers and other personal information and where identity theft can occur. Once again, just using some common sense prevails. Just go to reputable sites to do these transactions and use credit cards and not debit cards. Credit card companies are always a secondary line of defense against any suspicious charges and with their huge size, have the leverage to go after companies that might do fraudulent transactions.

Before you leave on your trip, minimize the credit cards you take. It can help focus your attention on transactions on one or two cards and you will be able to keep track better of the card and receipts. Some people have Social Security cards, don't carry these at all and if you do carry a checkbook, make sure that your Social is not on that either. Even check your health cards and driver license to make sure your Social is not on those. For that manner, just leave your checkbook at home. Another "preflight" item, is to record credit card numbers, expiration dates and telephone numbers or online access information so if something is stolen or your information has been compromised, you have that information immediately available to contact your respective credit card companies, financial institutions, etc. to alert them. Of course, these numbers need to be in a safe place or just leave them at home with someone able to retrieve them in case you need them. Do not use or carry any debit cards (check cards). This reduces your vulnerability to having your checking account emptied while you are traveling.

Having been many places in the world, both in the miltary and flying for the airlines, I used cash most of the time. In the old days, people used to use travelers' checks but I haven't used them in a long time, and I'm not sure if many places will take them anymore. Of course, if you are traveling for an extended time, this may not be feasible. One option is to be able to use ATMs, but then this is another place that you need to be very careful, not only in using and retrieving your card, but typing in your PIN number and getting a receipt. Once again, I would use ATMs, especially in other countries than yours, at major and reputable institutions like bank ATMs in well lighted areas. Always check around and be on the lookout for anything suspicious. Examine the ATM to check signs of tampering. Of course, this will probably not be your bank, but if they are in your network (another thing to check before you start traveling) then you can avoid any potential for identity theft. If you plan on using an ATM card during your travels, use one that does not have debit or check card privileges (one that always requires a PIN and does not contain a Visa or MasterCard logo). You can ask your financial institution to change an ATM/debit card to one that is "ATM only".

Just as at home, get receipts for all credit card and ATM transactions. Keep your receipts! Don't throw them away or leave them behind; it may contain your credit card number. Save your receipts until you can check them against your monthly credit card and/or bank statements, and watch your statements for purchases you didn't make. Even better, if you have computer access, pull up your accounts (making sure secure computer connections!) and see that these transactions are accurately recorded and that no unauthorized withdrawals or charges have been made.If you are bringing your laptop with you, be very careful when using it to access online banking or other password-protected services from Wi-Fi networks and be sure to use Wi-Fi hotspots that are secure. If you are using cyber-cafés, hotel business centers, or other public access internet facilities, be aware that there can be software that has been covertly installed to track you. Public access facilities may use servers that aren’t encrypted so never access any sensitive information from a public computer.

If you can, just use your credit card, whether it is a restaurant, shop, bar, etc.; at only established and bigger places. If you are eating at a small cafe, or very local place, I would use cash just to be safe. I'm sure most places are alright, but then you never know, better to "be safe, than sorry"!

It’s a fact that people tend to let their guard down when they start traveling and on vacation. Criminals know this. It is important to remember that when you travel, your risk of exposure to fraud and identity theft may increase. Identity theft is often a crime of opportunity. Don’t be a traveler who gives a crook that opportunity. Your personal information, credit and debit cards, driver’s license, passport, are their target. A few minutes spent planning before you travel can help reduce the risk these crooks will have to ruin your travels and/or vacation by identity theft.

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