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ITRC Fact Sheet 122

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, a traveler must be on the alert for opportunities that an identity thief may try to take advantage of in any given situation. Unfortunately, you cannot trust anyone you meet (housekeeping staff, bellmen, security guards, front desk clerks, etc.) with your personal information.

The following items should be taken into consideration before and during travel

  • Checks: Leave checkbooks and checks at home, in a locked safe. ITRC recommends that you use cash, traveler’s checks or credit cards for purchases.
  • ATM/Debit cards and Credit Cards: Consider restricting the use of your ATM card to securely located Automated Teller Machines. Fake ATM machines are known to have been placed in high traffic tourist areas. Debit cards also provide thieves with a direct pipeline to your bank accounts. When used with a PIN, you need not sign for the purchase. When used for a “credit” purchase with a signature, no confirming PIN is needed. This is why debit cards are deemed valuable to thieves. It is more difficult and time-consuming to resolve fraudulent purchases made with debit cards.ITRC recommends using credit cards while traveling. Credit cards are better protected by federal law as to the amount of money that you are responsible for if lost or stolen, and most companies now extend a zero liability policy to customers. For additional information, please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet FS 131 – Credit Card vs. Debit Card.
  • Leave bills at home: Business travelers often take advantage of quiet evenings in hotels to catch up with bookkeeping and paying bills. Unfortunately, many people have access to your room while you are at meetings and victims have reported that account information and check information has been stolen this way.
  • Hotel Safes: ITRC highly recommends that you lock up all valuables in-room safes or hotel safes while you are out of your room. That includes laptops, PDAs, jewelry, passports, and other documents that contain personal identifying information or that would be of interest to a thief. A suitcase is not a secure way to lock up information.
  • Pickpockets can be found in most major cities and tend to focus on high traffic areas that attract business or vacation travelers. Some studies indicate that wallets stolen in tourist spots frequently lead to identity theft. These professionals are not only interested in cash; they want your SSN, checks and driver’s license.Vacation travelers should use fanny packs or travel pouches that are worn inside your shirt to carry important documents. Business travelers should be aware that pickpockets are also looking for laptops and PDAs that are temporarily out of your control – at airports, in lobbies and in dining areas.
  • Wallets: Don’t take anything in your wallet that is not absolutely necessary. Leave all cards with Social Security Numbers on them at home. If necessary, make a photocopy of a health card, cut off the last 4 numbers of the Social Security Number from the photocopy and carry that with you. Make sure that you have an emergency phone number (contact person) for emergency medical personnel to use.
  • Shoulder surfers: Besides pickpockets, identity thieves take advantage of people via shoulder surfing. “Shoulder Surfing” used to only apply to those who looked “over your shoulder” to see information. With the common use of cell phones, it is important to remember that you are in a public venue and may talk about things that a thief can use.
  • Backup material: Carry photocopies of all travel documents including plane tickets, hotel reservations and passports. Keep these in a separate location from the originals.
  • Mail: Put your mail on “postal hold” stating that for a period of time you wish to have your mail held at the post office. We prefer that term rather than “vacation hold” because it doesn’t emphasize the fact that you will be out of town as much as the term vacation hold.
  • Newspapers: Allowing a pile of unread newspapers to accumulate on your property is a clear sign to thieves that your home is empty and possibly unprotected. Don’t forget to stop delivery until you return. Also stop any other automatic deliveries, such as bottled water.
  • Contact your local Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP), if one is available, to see if they do courtesy house checks. If so, coordinate with them to do a courtesy drive by while you are gone.
  • Neighbors, relatives and house-sitters: If you have someone that is going to check the house and has a key to your house, then lock up any documents with account numbers or Social Security Numbers.
  • Public restrooms: Do not hang your purse or bag from a hook on the door. It is too easy for someone to reach the top of the door and take it before you have time to react. The best place to store your purse or bag while in the restroom is beside you or hung around your body.

Check List - Before you Leave

  • Go through your wallet, purse and/or briefcase and remove any of the following items prior to travel:
    • Social Security card
    • Checkbook & deposit slips
    • Birth certificate
    • Credit card receipts
    • Bills
    • Extra Credit Cards
    • Library card
    • Video rental card
  • Leave your debit card at home. Make credit cards, not ATM cards, your card of choice.
  • Minimize the number of credit cards in a wallet. No more than two (2).
  • Place all the removed items above into a locked safe.
  • Pay bills before you go out of town.
  • Place mail on “postal hold” with the Post Office. Arrange so mail may only be picked up by you and request that identification must be shown to receive held mail.
  • Stop delivery of newspapers or any other items you may normally have delivered (water, automatically scheduled deliveries of products, etc.).
  • Make copies of your itinerary, passport data page, visas and driver’s license to leave with designated emergency contact.
  • Notify a neighbor to watch your house. Let them know you are not moving.

During Your Travel

  • Lock up all your valuables in-room safes or hotel safes while you are out of the room.  This includes jewelry, laptops, passports and any other important documents.
  • Heighten your awareness of people and crowds around you – pickpockets thrive in most major cities.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times – shoulder surfing is a viable method of obtaining personal information when you least suspect it.
  • Don’t take anything in your wallet that is not absolutely necessary.
  • Do not place purse, belongings or purchases on the floor in a public restroom. Also, do not hang these items on the hook on the door. It is also recommended that you not leave your purse on the floor or on an empty chair.

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to