Admit it. When you're on the road and need to access your bank information or place that last minute bid on eBay, it's easier grab some public Wi-Fi rather than wait for a secure internet connection. You're not alone.
According to a national survey by Experian, 53% of people will use public Wi-Fi while traveling. We think nothing of it because having our identity stolen isn't something that would happen to us, right?
But traveling with your guard down leaves you even more vulnerable to identity theft than you might expect. In 2016, over 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft and it's expected to go up by 16% this year. All it takes is one moment, one transaction, one piece of your personal information to fall into the wrong hands and you could be spending much of your time and resources trying to track down all the fraudulent credit cards and bank transactions that someone else made in your name.
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So, to keep your identity safe, here are a few habits you might want to pick up while you're on the road.
1. Do not use public Wi-Fi to access financial information or purchase things online
Imagine going to Starbucks and instead of giving your name, you gave them your social security number. You wouldn't do it, especially knowing that when your Grande Latte is done, they'll yell out that number for the entire cafe to hear.
That's what accessing your financial information or making on online purchase on a public Wi-Fi network is like. A public network is like being in public – act accordingly because someone might be watching. It's not difficult for a hacker to sit in a cafe and monitor the activity of every device connected to the Wi-Fi, so don't let that Amazon order cost more than what you originally bargained for.
2. Be careful what you post on social media
Going on a trip can be an exciting moment to share with your social network. But posting a photo of your passport or even your boarding pass might give savvy hackers just enough to track down more sensitive information and assume your identity.
3. Use only bank ATMs
The ATM in the hotel lobby or the corner store may be more convenient, but these ATMs are most vulnerable to recent scams involving card readers that scammers install on these public ATMs. Bank ATMs are safer. They are maintained more frequently and less likely to be compromised.
4. Use the hotel safe
Hotels may want you to make yourself at home but, remember, you're still a guest staying in a space that members of the hotel staff have access to. According to Experian's survey, only 39% of hotel guests take advantage of the hotel safe. So, when you leave your hotel room for the day, try not to leave any sensitive information laying about. The hotel safe is the most underrated hotel amenity.
5. Change your passwords regularly
Changing your passwords regularly is good practice in general but is especially important after a trip. Think of it as a preventative measure that you can take to ensure that identity thieves, who may be patiently waiting to steal your identity, won't be able to access your data when you least expect it.
6. Password protect your phone
Another preventative measure to protect your identity is to make sure your cell phone is password protected. If your phone gets stolen while you're on the road, an unprotected cell phone will give an identity thief access to any apps, your email accounts and everything else you may want to keep private.
7. Check your credit report for accuracy
Running a credit report isn't just to keep track of your credit score. A credit report will show you what accounts are open in your name, including any fraudulent accounts that might have been opened using your identity.
8. Monitor your bank accounts periodically
Rather than waiting for monthly statements to be delivered to your house, sign up for online banking so that you can keep up with your transactions on a regular basis. Monitoring your bank account will help you catch fraudulent charges early. That way, you can work with your bank to quickly change whatever information you need before too much damage is done to your account.
9. Consider posting vacation photos online after you come back home
It may be tempting to post a picture of that cocktail on the beach for all of your colleagues stuck at the office to see. But if the wrong person catches wind that you're away on vacation and not returning any time soon, you may be opening yourself up to someone breaking in and not just stealing your stuff, but any important documents pertaining to sensitive identifying information.
Only 32% of people will wait until they return home to share vacation photos. It is worth waiting until you come home to rub those beach photos in your friends' faces.
10. Consider an identity protection program
Signing up for an identity protection program is like having a strong advocate in your corner. Products like Experian IdentityWorks, can provide dark web monitoring and credit reports while keeping track of your financial accounts on your behalf so that you can enjoy your travels without worrying about your sensitive information being compromised. These programs will alert you to any suspicious activity and provide up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.