Spring break is so close you can almost reach out and grab it, and many of us are looking forward to some much needed downtime. But whether you opt for an exotic locale or a nice, cozy “staycation,” there are some things you need to know in order to protect your identity, your finances, or both.
The Identity Theft Resource Center works all year long to keep tabs on scams, fraud, and data breaches, and their data shows a noticeable trend when it comes to criminal activity. No matter what holiday or important event is coming up, there are scams that specifically go along with it. Spring break travel is by far no exception.
So while you’re enjoying some downtime, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. The threat of travel scams doesn’t end when you arrive at your destination
Most savvy consumers have heard about travel booking scams or bogus too-good-to-be-true deals, and hopefully you’ve stayed far away from them. But just making it safely to your vacation spot doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
Credit card skimming is a common problem for world-wide travelers because the likelihood of you coming back and pinpointing the exact person who exploited your credit card is very unlikely. At hotels, restaurants, shops, or transportation desks, all it takes is someone turning their back with your card in order to create a cloned card with your information on it.
If you can avoid it, don’t let anyone turn away with your magnetic stripe card. If you have a chip card, that might be the better choice since that chip cannot be copied. Important note: if your card is copied and used, it will not necessarily trigger an alert from your bank as the physical card was actually present during the transaction!
2. Connecting online can be dangerous
Whenever you’re traveling, you might find yourself relying on local establishments for internet connections, and those connections can be very dangerous from a cybersecurity standpoint. That’s why it’s important to install a VPN before you leave home.
A VPN, or virtual private network, is like your own personal tunnel onto the internet. It keeps people from seeing your activity, like logging into your bank account and transferring money. Also, if you opted to travel abroad, a VPN can serve as a portal that makes it appear as though you’re still in the US. Social media scammers are less likely to find your location if you upload photos online, and your favorite apps will still work, even if international agreements prohibit it for locals.
Best of all, there are great VPN apps for your phone, tablet, or laptop, and many of them come with free accounts that offer you a certain amount of data usage. You can also take advantage of free 30-day trials, pay for a higher data limit, and more.
3. The danger doesn’t end once your plane lands back home
A lot of people joke about needing “a vacation from their vacation,” and it’s tempting to get home, rest up, then dive back into everyday life. Unfortunately, the risk of scams isn’t over just because you made it home safe.
Once you’re home, it’s time to really monitor those account statements, receipts, credit card bills, and credit reports carefully. It will not only help you keep a record of how much you spent and how much you might need to budget but also help you spot any suspicious activity in case your information was compromised during your trip. Be prepared to head off anything out of the ordinary by contacting your bank, credit reporting agencies, or even the police.
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.