Identity Theft Risk While Traveling

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This time of year, a lot of people are traveling to visit friends and family over the holidays and to ring in the New Year.  Unfortunately, many of these travelers don't realize how much their risk of identity theft increases when they're on the road.  Identity theft can happen at any point during the trip, and depending on the length of the trip it might take longer for identity theft or credit card fraud to be discovered.

Part of the reason for this increased risk can be attributed to the overwhelming number of electronic payment terminals we encounter while traveling.  Hotels, gas stations, restaurants... everyone's making it a simple matter to swipe and go, but the convenience can carry with it a steep price.  It's easy to get swept up in the convenience and not notice if the person next in line is paying a little too much attention as you enter in your PIN on the keypad.  Debit card fraud continues to be a growing threat. Recently, fifty-five gang members, were busted for running a $2 million identity theft ring; aided by the tellers, an identity theft ring made phone and wire transfers from the victims' accounts and got credit cards in their names. 

That actually relates to another reason that you're at more of a risk of identity theft when traveling: there are usually more people around in general.  Think about it; in the airport, in the hotel lobby or at the rest area, there can be a lot of people crowded into generally small spaces.  Often these people will seem lost in their own little worlds just like you are, but some of them might be paying a lot more attention to you than you think.  Is the person behind you at the ticket counter sending a text, or is she trying to use the camera on her phone to make a video of you using your debit card?  You may not know for sure, but it's one situation where you can't afford to assume the best.

Perhaps the biggest thing that increases your risk is the fact that most of your safeguards are designed to keep you protected while you're at home.  It's great that a number of banks now offer to call you when they see suspicious activity on your credit or debit card account, but it's not going to do you much good if the calls go to your home phone while you're 500 miles away.

Before you head out on a trip, whether it's an overnight business trip or a two-week Christmas vacation to visit your family, take the time to plan out how you're going to keep your identity safe.  Thin your wallet, password protect electronic devices, and let your bank and credit card companies know that you'll be traveling, making sure that you tell them both where you'll be going and how they can reach you if there is any strange activity on your account.  You should also arrange for someone to pick up your mail or have the Post Office hold your mail until you get back so that a stuffed mailbox doesn't let opportunistic thieves realizing that you're not home. Today, we need to be alert to at home, online and while traveling --we live in a world of schemes, swindles and shady deals.

Once you're on your way, try to be more observant of the people around you and make sure that you aren't leaving your credit card or PIN exposed to potential identity thieves.  If you have online banking services or online credit card account access, check your balances periodically while you're away from home, (on a secure network) to make sure that nothing is showing up that shouldn't.  Don't assume that everything will be okay and say that you'll just check everything when you get home; the sooner you can catch identity theft, the quicker you can prevent it from doing damage that may take years to recover from.
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