An abundance of online resources and cheap international travel render border-hopping easier than ever for those bitten by the travel bug. While smartphones, external hard drives and cloud storage simplify accessing your personal information on the go.
Unfortunately, this powerful pocket technology also makes it necessary for you to guard your information like a hawk from identity theft, unauthorized transactions and data smugglers. Find out how below.
Tips for before you leave
- Make it easy for yourself by only bringing necessary documents and paperwork. Be sure to bring the essentials: your passport, visa, if applicable, and any pertinent medical or health insurance-related documents, such as proof of an immunization, or prescription medication. Your social security card, birth certificate and tax forms are better off safely tucked in the top drawer of your home office bureau, rather than traveling around the world with you. Use common sense: if you don’t have it, you won’t be able to lose it or have it stolen. Protect My ID is a useful app developed by Experian that helps you decide what to take with you and what to leave at home.
- Back up, back up, back up. Before you depart, don’t forget to make copies or digital scans of all your important documents. This includes passports, driver’s licenses, credit cards and proof of insurance. Therefore, losing the physical copy won’t mean losing private data forever.
- Take steps to alert your bank and credit card companies you embark on your journey. Prior to travel, call your credit or and debit card companies and alert them that you will be making charges from another country. Otherwise you may be subject to a freeze on your account while the credit company investigates an unusual charge, putting you in a tough position as a tourist.
- Learn the local currency, exchange rate, and money change options in your destination country. This will protect you from falling prey to unfair exchanges, accepting counterfeit money, or finding yourself without payment options. Make sure to have some traveler’s checks on hand for emergencies, as well.
- Keep your home country in the loop of about your whereabouts. American citizens can utilize the free-of-charge Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) to alert the U.S. of their travel plans, location and rough itinerary before they leave the country. In the case of a security breach, emergency or disaster, the Department of State will assist you through the local embassy or consulate. Learn how to stay abreast of travel warning and advisories so that you and your information will not be put in jeopardy should a situation arise.
- Let your friends and family know your travel itinerary. Make sure your loved ones aware of where you’ll be headed and for how long, in case of emergency. Let them know to be wary of any suspicious messages from your Facebook or email address, which may indicate that your property or passwords have been stolen from you while abroad. With this information, they’ll know to alert the authorities if something happens.
- Go through these steps with your laptop before you pack it into your carry-on luggage. You will have peace of mind as you’re going through security, checking into your hotel and taking your computer out in a foreign country.
- Keep your computer – and your hands – to yourself. Certain countries have the right to seize or quarantine a traveler’s laptop that they suspect, for any number of reasons, contains data that they don’t want in their country. Be aware of what you’re bringing in to a country, being especially sensitive to areas like the Middle East, East Asia or Eastern Europe, which are notoriously zealous when it comes to suspect information. Even the US has declared that it has a right to seize laptops, for an indefinite period. Do your best to prevent this from happening by getting rid of all but the files you will need on your trip, keeping a backup of your hard drive at home, and encrypting your data.
- Get a VPN. A VPN (virtual private networking) reroutes your internet connection through an anonymous server, giving you a new IP address and securing your laptop or mobile device from hackers intent on stealing your private information. Using a VPN is always a good idea for the additional security it provides, but particularly essential when you are traveling and extra vulnerable. Additionally, countries like China block common websites like Facebook and Google, meaning that you’ll need to use a VPN to establish an out-of-country connection in order to access them.
- Keep your operating system and browser up to date. Contrary to popular opinion, antivirus software doesn’t give your computer a great deal of added security, but having the latest release of your OS and browser does. Security is a huge priority for software developers these days, with additional security features being added on a regular basis, so don’t forget to update to the latest iOS or Windows before you leave for your trip.
Tips for when you're at the hotel
- Be smart when choosing a place to rest your head…and your luggage. The difference between a five-star hotel and a two-star can make all the difference in being confident that your gear will be stored safely and soundly during your trip. “It’s a fact that more serious crime occurs at budget hotels than at major, expensive hotels,” says Peter Greenberg of the LA Times. Security researcher Cody Brocious states hotel locks are not as safe as you might think, remarking that they are “stupidly simple” to open with just about anything. Higher end hotels have heightened security in place to prevent thieves, such as metal detectors, hall guards, and surveillance systems, and--depending on where you’re traveling, might not set you back much.
- Once you’re at the hotel, secure your belongings before you do anything else. Don’t reach for those mini bar snacks, remote control or hot tub knob before you ensure that your valuables are safely stored. For most hotels, this place will be the safe. Bring your valuables to the lobby and have a hotel official lock them in a private safe where they cannot be tampered with. Any smaller or less important items that you just need to have in your room with you should stay in your locked luggage, or in a theft-proof, slash-proof bag secured to a piece of stable furniture. Don’t scatter important devices like flash drives or folders around the room or stick them in a drawer where they’ll be easily forgotten.
- Take advantage of the hotel front desk lockbox as your personal safe-zone during your trip. Keep your valuables in it any time they are not actively in use.
- Beware of over-the-phone scams. A common scam involves someone calling your hotel phone late at night to ask you to reconfirm your credit card information claiming to have a problem at the front desk. Deal with financial or identity issues in person only, and only with qualified authorities.
Tips for when you’re on the go
- Travel intelligently – use a travel carrier when out and about. An organized travel carrier that loops around your neck and contains a clear window able to hold your passport, credit card, emergency cash and/or traveler’s check, is invaluable. These carriers can be situated under clothing, so your most irreplaceable documents are hidden from view and accessible only by you. For ladies, there are Rack Traps, special hidden bra-compartments specifically designed for carrying cash and credit cards
- Be cognizant of hidden fees, currency change charges and country-specific quirks when traveling with your credit card. Avoid paying an astronomical exchange rate or usage fee by inquiring about them beforehand.
- Secure your person before you secure your personal belongings. Remember that no matter how valuable your iPad or the contents of your wallet, the value of your body trumps it. In the unlikely event that you are faced with a physical threat, as long as you remain unscathed, the information or cash that you’re trying to protect can always be recovered or replaced. Consider take a self-defense course before you travel abroad so that you feel prepared with an appropriate response if something were to happen. Check out Antor.org‘s guide to self-defense for travelers for more information.
- Lost your passport? Breathe easy. Passports are no longer just paper booklets filled with handwritten personal information and faded stamps of traveled-to countries. In the last decade, passports have become a high-tech tool: tracking device, information recorder and scan-able data hub, all in one. The US electronic passport, for instance, contains an integrated circuit computer chip embedded with your personal information and a headshot to prevent identity theft and personal crime.
But what if your data is “skimmed” or “eavesdropped” from the passport by a sly tech-savvy criminal? The Department of State has taken several steps against this by encrypting your data and making it unalterable. The biometric properties of modern passports make identity theft virtually impossible. Even in the worst case scenario of losing your passport, it is highly unlikely that a criminal could exploit, thanks to this new technology.