As people continue to store more of their personal information online, identity theft has become a crime on the rise. And that risk becomes even greater when traveling.
In 2016, more than 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft, up 16 percent from the previous year, according to Experian, a global information services group. About 33 percent of that fraud took place when people were traveling.
The fear is present for Americans, with 84 percent acknowledging their concern about the security of personal information online. Yet they apparently haven’t taken the necessary precautions. To that point, nearly 64 percent of those polled said it’s too much of a hassle to constantly worry about securing their online information, according to a survey by Experian.
The survey was conducted in March by Edelman Berland on Experian’s behalf, and polled 1,000 U.S. adults online.
The rise of the Internet has only aided hackers in their quest for your personal information, said Michael Bruemmer, vice president of consumer protection at Experian.
“Your information, once it’s out there on the Internet, it’s out there,” said Bruemmer. “You can’t grab it back.
“Unlike the days of a physical piece of paper where, unless it was copied, you could get that physical piece of paper back, now, once you hit send or enter on your keyboard, it’s gone,” he added. “We leave a digital footprint everywhere we go.”
Here are seven tips on how to stay protected while travelling.
- Avoid using public WiFi
Public WiFi makes it easy for thieves to hack into the information stored on your mobile phone or laptop, according to the report. Yet less than half (47 percent) of respondents avoid using public WiFi when traveling.
“We never recommend using public WiFi, and of course you’re given free public WiFi in most hotels,” Bruemmer said. “So people say ‘OK, so if I shouldn’t use public WiFi, how can I check my transactions like my bank statement or my credit card statement?'”
Instead of using public Wi-Fi, get a portable router to set up your own WiFi hotspot, the report advised. To do this, you’ll need a local SIM data card, which you can purchase at an electronic store or an airport kiosk.
- Password-protect phones and add tracking tools
Your phone stores sensitive information, such as access to your emails, and possibly even credit card information (if you use Apple Wallet or bank apps.) Only 48 percent of respondents password-protect their smartphones, making it easy for thieves to access that information. Also, only 26 percent have a tracking device set up in case their phones get stolen, the report said.
Not only should you set up a password to unlock your device, but you should create a strong, unique password and change it regularly, the report advised. In addition, enable location tracking and install a wiping software so you can track down your phone or destroy the data on it if it’s ever stolen.
- Don’t post location or agenda on social media
Only 32 percent of people avoid posting photos or status updates online while traveling, and only 20 percent disable geotagging on pictures, according to the survey. Sharing your agenda or location on social media allows potential thieves to keep track of where you are, making it easier for them to time a crime. Instead, wait to post about your trip until you get home, the report said.
- Bring only what you need; lock up what you do
Only bring a passport with you if you’re traveling abroad, and always avoid bringing your Social Security card or birth certificate with you, the report advised. Also, don’t bring all of your credit and debit cards; choose instead to carry only a select few.
If you do bring sensitive documents with you on your trip, lock them up in a hotel safe or other secure location, Bruemmer said.
- Keep a record of important documents
If your wallet or any important documents do get stolen, it’s important to know exactly what’s missing, the report said. Before you go on your trip, write down all the information from your credit and debit cards, driver’s license, medical insurance and other important documents. This will help you figure out who to call after a theft and what to tell them.
- Monitor credit cards and reports
Monitoring bank and credit card accounts (58 percent), as well as credit reports (55 percent), was seen as helpful in detecting suspicious activity. Yet 53 percent of respondents say monitoring financial transactions is challenging, and 81 percent trust banks and credit card companies to catch fraud for them.
However, you must rely on yourself to catch a thief by constantly monitoring your accounts.
If people think monitoring their accounts is normally a challenge, it’s an even bigger challenge away from home, Bruemmer said,
“When people are traveling … you’re out of your normal environment or routine,” he said. “And it just makes things a little bit harder even with a smartphone…to check some of your online accounts.”
- Protect your home while you’re away
Before you leave for your trip, stop your mail delivery. An overflowing mailbox is like a huge neon sign on your house that says “no one is home.”
This will also ensure that important documents aren’t stolen from your mailbox while you’re gone.