Protect your Summer Travel

by Philip Alexander, Founder, Data Privacy Network 

A lot of families are planning to take vacations this summer, which means a lot of identity thieves are preparing to take advantage. Consider the following tips to be sure you plan your trip, enjoy vacation, and return home safely without compromising your personal information.
Before you go:
  • Be Web Wise. If a travel deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Make arrangements on trusted travel sites, and be sure the Web address begins with https:// before entering personal or credit card information. If you find a lesser-known travel site with a great deal, do some Internet sleuthing to verify the service is legitimate, and that they deliver customer satisfaction, not scams.  
  • Ask a trusted friend or relative to collect the mail and newspaper. Nothing says “vacant home” louder than a bunch of newspapers on the porch and mail stuffed in the box. You can request a temporary stoppage of delivery, but realize you’re trusting strangers with that information.
  • Keep travel plans off social media. Sharing your frustrations with the travel agency, or messages like, “I have so much packing to do tonight!” are a welcomed sight to thieves who can find your address online. (You may trust your friends on social media, but think about the friends of friends and Twitter followers you don’t know.) While it may be hard, try to resist posting those beautiful beach photos until you return home.
  • Leave unessential IDs at home. If your wallet or purse is stolen, you can minimize the risk by carrying only essential forms of identification, usually your driver’s license and credit card (and internationally, your passport). There’s not much you can do with a social security card on vacation but lose it. Another example: if mall shopping is not a part of your plan, you don’t need to bring department store credit cards. If you can afford travel expenses on your credit card and cash alone, consider leaving your debit card at home. That way, your personal bank account is out of the equation. Checkbooks should stay home for the same reason.
  • Know whom to call. Write down the customer service phone number on the back of your credit card, so you can immediately report a lost or stolen card. Consider writing the number on the back of a business card from your hotel and keeping it with your phone.
  • Secure your devices. Set a strong password for any smartphones, tablets, or laptops. This way the thief only gets the hardware, not the most personal and private information about your life. You can also enable apps for smartphones and tablets that use GPS tracking to locate the device – and sometimes the thief, too. The New York Times recently reported on the anti-theft features of these apps, and other smartphone protection tips.   
While you’re away:
  • Connect with care. Free WiFi networks at airports and coffee shops are often unsecured, which greatly enhances the risk of your device becoming infected with a virus or malware that exposes your personal information. Be careful about the types of online activity you do on these unsecured networks – online banking should not be one of them. 
  • Be especially savvy about hotel Wi-Fi. Most hotels offer wireless Internet; some include a small fee, which goes toward providing a more secure connection. Understand exactly what you’re connecting to. A virtual local area network (VLAN) is a favorable option if your hotel offers it. Conversely, crafty cybercriminals will set up, for instance, “YourInnWireless1” as a network and gain access to all your data once you connect. Be sure you know how to connect to the hotel-provided network, and what security measures the hotel takes.
  • Monitor account activity. Use a secure network to regularly check your bank account for unauthorized purchases while you’re on the go.
  • Use the hotel room safe. If you’re leaving important travel documents or electronic devices in the room, take the extra 20 seconds to be sure those items stay there.
  • Don’t assume it’s housekeeping. You wouldn’t give your credit card number over the phone to someone who called you at home, don’t do it at the hotel. contributor Herb Weisbaum reported on a series of scams in which hotel guests received phone calls by criminals representing themselves as front desk staff to obtain credit card numbers. 
Hopefully these tips will help you and your family have a fun, safe vacation, and ensure your identity didn’t go anywhere without you.
Philip Alexander CISSP-ISSMP, CEH, CHFI, is founder of Data Privacy Network, a data security consulting firm. A 20-year IT security veteran, Philip has worked in both the public and private sectors. His experiences include performing data security work for the U.S. Army, the financial services sector, travel & leisure, healthcare and telecommunications. Phil is also an accomplished author, having published three books, as well as numerous articles and webinars.
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