You've already chosen where you're going, probably booked the trip, maybe you've already even paid for it. Whether we're talking about spring break, summer vacation, or just a winter getaway, we take vacations to get away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and try to relax and enjoy ourselves. After all, we've earned it. The best thing about vacations is probably the quality time we get to spend with our family.
There have always been certain safety precautions we keep in mind, like not picking up strangers while we are driving, or making sure we don't leave our valuables in the car. These are the common sense rules we usually learn from our parents when straying from home, but identity theft has put some new things on the radar that they never had to deal with. When you're traveling, there are a few other things you may want to keep in mind to help minimize your risk of identity theft.
All About the Benjamins
Protecting your money is probably first and foremost on your mind. After all, the vacation stops when you can pay for anything. Many travelers choose to use traveler's checks. Some people report having difficulties trying to use them because they're not as common as other forms of payment such as ATM cards or cash. However if they are stolen or lost, your bank can cancel the remaining checks and issue you new ones fairly quickly. This makes them a lot safer than cash.
So, you're probably like most people and want to keep things simple… The ATM card, credit card, and checkbook is your preferred method of payment, even when you're on the road. While you're having a good time it's most important that you protect these from prying eyes and sticky fingers.
Use a credit card instead of an ATM card, if you have the choice. It's simpler to dispute charges with VISA than it is to get your money back through the bank.
Keep your cards with you at all times. When using it to pay for something, don't let it out of your sight (i.e. don't hand it to the waitress to pay for your meal and let her walk away with it.)
Have phone numbers in your cell phone for your bank and credit card companies. If your wallet is stolen or lost, call your bank as soon as you realize it. It is also a good idea to have these phone numbers written down somewhere in case you lose your phone.
Keep every receipt until you get home and can verify it against your statements. Of course, be sure to report anything that you don't have a receipt for.
Check your bank account frequently. If you have your laptop or smart phone with you that's probably the best way, but most banks allow you to call on the telephone to check account activity. Again, if something doesn't look right report it immediately.
Do not let anyone write down your driver's license number. The retailer may want you to show it before running a credit card, which is a good thing. Most small companies still train their employees to write your driver's license number on a check before accepting it, which is a dangerous practice. If this is the case, use a different form of payment.
Do not take your Social Security card with you. It's a bad idea to have your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, even at home. On vacation, you should not need it for anything.
Traveling abroad presents a special problem since you need to have a passport. This is a vital document that carries more weight than even your Social Security card. It can be used as the sole form of identification on an I-9 form to gain employment, even if it has expired. (Ask your HR person, bet they don't know!) If you're using a passport on vacation, treat it like gold. If your passport gets lost or stolen, contact the U.S. consulates office immediately, (which should be another number in your phone.)
Protecting Your Family
Make sure the kids know that strangers cannot be trusted. Teens will almost always find someone to swap e-mail addresses with, or maybe connect with on face book. Make sure they understand the dangers of being too trusting.
Scam artists and pickpockets have a very special knack for spotting tourists. These people are creative, and will use pretty much anything to get what they want, so there are more scams around than most people realize. A general rule of thumb is that if a deal seems too good to be true it usually is.
Be aware of your surroundings: who is around you and especially who's paying attention to you and your family. Identity thieves sometimes use low-tech methods (eavesdropping, snooping, "shoulder surfing" etc.) to get valuable information about you. What they can do with it is limited only by their creativity and willingness to break laws. Being away from home requires an extra dose of caution, even if you're not thinking about identity theft.
Communication is the most important thing when you aren't in familiar surroundings. Travel with a buddy or in small groups. Solo adventures can be a lot of fun, and will probably appeal to the adventurous and romantic alike. If this is the case for you or someone in your family, at least check in with each other on a regular basis.
When it comes identity theft, you will always be at risk no matter how safe you keep with your personal information, but that's really another story. However, with a few simple precautions, and a hint of paranoia, you can cut down on your identity theft risk dramatically.