Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Identity Theft on the Road: What You Need to Know

Last week was not fun. I got hacked, and spent countless hours contacting worried friends who'd been told I was stranded penniless in London; reconfiguring my email and Facebook accounts; and reloading programs onto my computer (the hackers left a virus, I suspect).

But at least I was home when it happened and had a base from which I could counterattack. Sadly, an increasing number of travelers find themselves victimized on vacation. In fact, it's the carefree nature of vacations--and the increased use of credit cards--that make us more likely to fall victim to identity theft on the road than at home. We let our guard down, we spend freely (often on credit), we're less careful. And on the nitty gritty level we use hotel computers and wifi systems that may not have the necessary firewalls and encryption we have at home.

This weekend, we interviewed Wayne Ivy, a police officer and law enforcement liaison for LifeLock.com about how travelers can keep their identities safe away from home.

  1. Try to avoid using the hotel computer for any interactions that might involve the use of credit cards. And if you're logged in, on it, to an account with personal information, remember to log out. Too many folks simply leave their accounts open, right there in the lobby, where anyone could nab your info.
  2. Be aware of the people around you when you're typing on your computer. "Shoulder surfing" (the act of someone glancing over your shoulder as you type on your computer) is an easy way for bad guys to filch your passwords and other valuable information. This is particularly a problem in coffee shops.
  3. Use just one credit card when you travel. That way, if your credit information gets swiped, say by a waiter or taxi driver with a card reader, you'll be able to spot the fraud more quickly. And will only have one battle to fight rather than several. (Pauline's note: you may want to carry more than one, however. There are cases when car rental companies and even resorts can require such a large deposit, your credit may be temporarily frozen. This can particularly be a problem if you have a car accident). As well, a number of establishments limit themselves to one or two types of cards that they'll accept; carry another form of credit and you'll be in trouble.
One thing you should not do is try to avoid using credit cards by carrying around large amounts of cash. If you do, and your stash gets stolen, you're out of luck. At least with credit cards, your bank or credit card company will reimburse you for any thefts.

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft on the road? I'd so appreciate it if you'd share your story below. The more we all know about this growing problem, the better we can combat it!

(Photo by Don Hankins)

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