How to Protect Against Identity Theft While Traveling

How to Protect Against Identity Theft While Traveling

Within the comfort of our own homes, the risk of identity theft seems far away--only a small concern. And to a certain extent, that's okay, as locked safes and private home WiFi networks are somewhat safer than public locations. While the risk of having your identity and financial information stolen is always present, the danger multiplies when you travel.

However, the threat of stolen information should not deter you from exploring the world around us. In fact, identity theft protection is easy to establish when you follow a few simple steps. Implement the following five practices to strengthen the virtual wall between your identity and a world full of criminals.

Clean out your carry-on

It's a familiar story. Hotel checkout is in less than an hour, and you haven't even started packing yet. You open drawers and cabinets, cramming everything as quickly as you can into suitcases, shopping bags, and as a last resort, your carry-on. "I'll sort it out later!" you promise yourself, but that moment never comes. When you grab your bag to pack for your next flight, an assortment of paper notes, old receipts, and random business cards have made a nest in the bottom. "I'll sort it out when I get back!" And the cycle continues.

These notes, receipts, and business cards could potentially carry a wide variety of sensitive information. These details may include fragments of credit card numbers, clues about where you often travel, and the names of business acquaintances. Or, worse, hastily jotted down passwords and bank account numbers.

Before you leave home:

  1. Clean out your carry-on bag, wallet, backpack, briefcase, and all suitcases.
  2. Remove any remnants from previous trips, and take a few minutes to go through them all.
  3. Send the receipts to your accountant, and shred any notes with numbers or addresses on them.

Make copies of your ID and passport

As airline flight restrictions continue to rise, having verifiable proof of your identity is more important than ever before. It may seem counterintuitive to carry photocopies of your ID as a form of identity theft protection, but here's an explanation.

If your passport and photo ID are stolen while traveling, the replacement process can be overwhelming. Traveler’s insurance is nice, but it won’t help you get your driver’s license back any faster. Having photocopies of identity documents on hand can speed things up in an emergency and even serve as a make-shift form of identification until the replacements arrive.

Keep in mind that you need a secure place to store the copies. Consider an encrypted cloud drive to host digital images or simple paper photocopies that stay tucked into your money belt. If you are staying in a hotel with a safe, it's a great place to keep sensitive information while traveling.

Enable multi-factor authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a technology that, when enabled, requires more than just a passcode to gain access to digital information. The idea is that if a hacker did somehow steal your password, they would also need to have access to a mobile device, email, or secret answer to a question.

Many popular websites include Multi-Factor Authentication options. For example, Facebook offers MFA through text messages, phone calls, mobile app, and push notifications. Anytime you, or an attempted hacker, tries to log in to your Facebook account from a new device, an additional factor is needed. So if someone steals your password, they can't get in without a unique code that is delivered directly to you.

Depending on the MFA options you choose, you may even get alerts on your mobile device when someone tries to access your accounts. You can then immediately block the attempt and change your password as soon as you are on a secure network.

Guard your electronic devices

Speaking of secure networks, guarding your electronic devices while traveling may be the most important means of protection. Even when traveling for pleasure rather than business, in today's 24/7 economy, many still pack a laptop, tablet, and multiple mobile phones. All of these are potential weak spots for identity theft hackers.

Keeping the physical devices in your possession is critical, of course. Ensure you have ways to lock up laptops when not in use and keep smaller devices in the hotel safe or hidden away. Bonus tip: Smartwatches can easily be stashed in a pair of rolled-up socks when not being worn.

More important, however, is keeping those devices strictly within a secure network. A reputable VPN service protects you when you're traveling, especially when browsing in public places. Most devices can be configured to connect through a virtual private network, and this step should be completed before leaving home. The free WiFi at the airport or hotel might be convenient, but public WiFi is a common target for scammers and hackers.

Pack light

If you don't need it, leave it at home. Anything that connects to the internet almost certainly contains some of your personal information. But sensitive data lives other places: Forgotten notes in coat pockets, receipts used as bookmarks, and bank cards absent-mindedly dropped into gym bags. The less stuff you take on your trip, the lower the chances of mishap.