A Guide to Protecting Your Information & Privacy While Traveling
Imagine hopping on the airport’s Wi-Fi while waiting for your flight, or booking a hotel room from your taxi ride. Seems safe enough, right? Think again. The truth is, travelers are incredibly vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.
Think about it — jetsetters and travelers are constantly using unsecured Wi-Fi connections, carrying loads of personal documents, buying things from unauthorized vendors, and withdrawing money from questionable ATMs. In fact, people using public Wi-Fi at restaurants, airports, and hotels are more likely to report compromised security than at other places such as libraries and retail stores. (Fortunately, people traveling internationally reported relatively low rates of incidents while they were overseas.)
In the end, the victim pays a steep price. They can lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars, then there are the sleepless nights and never-ending headaches caused by the fallout and cleanup.
Before delving into the specifics behind how to protect your identity, personal information, and privacy while traveling, let’s get a glimpse at what some industry experts have to say.
General Tips for Protecting Your Privacy When You Travel
These days, it is practically a necessity to have gadgets and devices on us at all times while traveling. Technology helps us to stay connected while we are away from home and the office. With that said, reduce your risk of your personal information being compromised with the following tips that will get you all set before, during, and after your trip! After all, vacations are for relaxing, and not for worrying about fraud and identity theft.
Practice the following strategies to stay connected while remaining cyber safe on your travels. Before you take off, consider these pointers:
Only bring what you absolutely need when it comes to cards, travel documents, and other personal information. Not only will traveling lightly lessen the chances of everything getting lost or stolen, it will also keep your wallet compact and organized.
Hold off on posting anything on social media about your travel arrangements.
Secure your accounts and devices with strong passwords, passcodes, or mobile phone touch ID to lock your gadgets.
Avoid taking your work or personal devices with you on your trips, but if you must, be sure to encrypt or remove secret information.
Enable “Find My Phone” on your mobile device so that if it gets lost or stolen, you are able to locate it. Turn on remote wipe abilities and familiarize yourself on how to do this in case you need to.
Make copies of your travel records, ID cards, credit cards, and other personal information that you’re bringing with you on the trip. Leave these copies with a trusted family member or friend. This way, if anything is lost or stolen, you know where to trace back and retrieve the information.
Get all your gadgets up-to-date on the latest software for optimal security.
If possible, use temporary gadgets designated just for traveling. Examples would be an inexpensive laptop and a prepaid cell phone.
Back up any important data on your devices on an external drive that you leave at home in a safe place.
Turn off printer-sharing and file-sharing applications.
DURING YOUR TRIP
While you are on vacation, consider taking the below measures to keep yourself protected on the move:
Keep in mind that public Wi-Fi networks and hotspots are not secure, so anyone can potentially see what you are doing on your device while you’re connected.
Turn off Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth on your gadgets when you’re not using them.
Do not leave any of your devices behind, even in your hotel room. Keep them secure with you at all times, and if you must leave anything behind, make sure it is locked up in a safe so that no one can access it even if they get into your hotel room.
Wait to post photos and status updates about your travels on social media until you are back home. You don’t want criminals to know where you are or that your home may be empty.
Avoid using ATM cards whenever possible. Credit cards and cash are recommended when traveling.
Refrain from logging into any personal accounts on other people’s devices – whether that means public computers, hotel business center computers, or devices belonging to friends, colleagues, or other travelers. Computers in public areas may have keyloggers and malware on them, which can compromise your sensitive information.
Use a VPN on your devices to create an encrypted connection during your time away.
Find an AC power brick that plugs into a power outlet directly rather than using a USB charger. USB chargers in public spaces are big no-no’s. Criminals can access information on your devices through the USB cable since it has two wires – one for power and the other for data transfer. When you are in a cab or rideshare such as Uber, avoid plugging in your devices to charge (even if you use your own cord). Otherwise, you might connect your phone or device to the car’s system without your knowledge.
Keeping yourself and your personal information secure requires regular attention. When you get back, we recommend that you:
Check your credit card statement to make sure no suspicious or unauthorized charges took place on your trip.
Change all passwords that you used on your vacation.
Run full antivirus scans on your gadgets.
Remove any applications and related data you may have downloaded onto your devices specifically for your trip that you no longer need.
Share your photos, videos, and updates on social media for your friends and family to finally enjoy!
5 Things Every Vacationer Must Protect
Make sure security is on your packing list before you head to your next destination! Travelers are big targets for identity theft because of all the information and devices they constantly carry around. Below are five things you should protect.
Many data breaches happen when laptops, phones, or tablets are stolen or lost. This is called a physical breach, and the amount of information involved can be massive. Thieves may access these devices or resell them, causing even more security headaches. The good news is that there are simple ways to prevent having your devices stolen or lost during your travels:
Keep your devices as close to your body as possible to avoid getting pickpocketed.
Lock anything you leave behind in the hotel safe.
Do not leave any devices unattended in a public space, no matter how empty or safe it may seem. Always check that you have your devices when you leave someplace — electronics are more likely to be misplaced than stolen. Popular public spaces that travelers frequent include coffee shops, airports, and hotel lobbies.
Password-protect your devices with strong passwords, and update your apps and other programs. This way, you minimize the chances of people getting access to your personal data in case they do get a hold of your phone, laptop, or tablet.
Bring what you absolutely need on your trip, and leave the rest at home in a safe place.
Those traveling for work often carry many important documents and confidential papers. In fact, more than a third of U.S. vacationers in 2022 planned to touch base with work multiple times a day during their time off. Many employees use their personal devices to access corporate data such as emails, financial data, and customer records. To prevent such data from getting compromised, consider doing the following on your trip:
When you are not using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, disable both.
Try to only take what you absolutely need with you on your trip.
Confidential documents that are no longer needed should be safely shredded.
Save digital documents to a cloud service.
ID & CREDIT CARDS
Criminals often look for people’s ID cards and credit cards to assume false identities, which is why it is crucial to protect yourself from card theft. With that said,
Only bring along cards that you absolutely need – ideally one credit card and one debit card that you use often, and then your ID card. Leave the rest at home in a safe place.
Check your credit card statement regularly while you are away to make sure that there are no suspicious activities.
If your card is lost or stolen, report it to your bank immediately.
If you must absolutely use an ATM, make sure it is a safe one in a public area, and don’t forget to shield your PIN entry.
Travel itineraries, passports, car rental documents, airline tickets, and boarding passes should be kept securely. These documents contain confidential information that you won’t want a stranger stumbling across. For your safety,
Scan a copy of your passport and keep that in a secure place.
Keep your passport locked in a safe area along with your mobile devices. Do not leave it in plain sight. If you bring it along with you (and choose not to leave it behind in a hotel for example), make sure that it is close to your body as you would with your devices and wallet.
Do some research on popular travel scams and be cautious of them on your trips.
Never leave your travel documents unattended.
When your trip is over, shred all travel documents you no longer need so that they can’t get picked up by chance.
INTERNET OF THINGS DEVICES (IOT)
If you use smart devices like heart pressure monitors and fitness trackers that connect to the internet to send and receive information, you may want to take extra measures to protect yourself. Bear in mind that cyber criminals may be able to access your data remotely. With that said, be sure to:
Protecting Your Identity at Home
Heading out of town requires you to not only protect your identity while you are away, but also make sure everything at home stays safe, too. Since you won’t be around to keep an eye on things, you’ll want to add these to-do’s to your checklist before leaving:
Request that your mail be held at the post office until you return so that it doesn’t pile up and send a signal to potential thieves that you aren’t home. Alternatively, if you have a trustworthy neighbor, you can ask them to check your mail regularly and take it in for you temporarily.
House-sitters are great, but keep in mind that having one doesn’t exempt you from taking necessary measures to be safe. Even if yours is trustworthy, you still cannot predict whether or not your home may be burglarized while you are not there. Protect your identity by taking the extra step of locking up valuable documents in a safe.
Internet Security for Travelers
When it comes to protecting your information & privacy while traveling, you can never be too safe. Perform a few precautions for peace of mind, and keep your personal information safe with these tips:
ON YOUR OWN DEVICE
Ensure that you are running the latest version of your device’s security software and operating system.
Make sure that your devices are password-protected so that people cannot easily access your information should you misplace any of your gadgets.
Decrease the time it takes for the screen to lock when the devices are idle. It can be a pain to have to keep entering your code, but totally worth dealing with if it means keeping your identity safe.
Check to see if your laptop’s file-sharing feature is activated. If it is, you will want to turn it off so that people using the same Wi-Fi network as you cannot get access to your files.
Use a personal hotspot whenever possible when you are away from home. If that is not an option, then only use legitimate Wi-Fi hotspots. Rather than trying to log into whichever Wi-Fi hotspots come up first, take the extra time to ask the hotel or coffee shop for the specific name of their network. Networks with strong passwords are better than ones that can be easily accessed by anyone. Turn off Wi-Fi on your device when not in use.
ON A PUBLIC COMPUTER
Using a public computer for things that do not require you to log into anything is totally safe (i.e. check train schedules, a business’ hours of operations, etc).
If you need to log into anything on a public computer, first see if there’s a way for you to open an “Incognito” window.
Before signing into anything, make sure that any box that says “stay signed in” or “remember me” is unchecked.
Make sure that you are logged out of your accounts when you are done.
After you are logged out, clear the Internet browser’s cache, cookies, and history before leaving the computer.
For your very important accounts, set up two-step verification. It’s an extra layer of protection that will require you to enter a password from another device that you own whenever you try to log into your accounts using unfamiliar devices. Most email providers and social media apps now offer the two-step verification.
Avoid logging into your personal financial accounts while you’re away, especially on a public computer. If you can, wait until you get back home and check on a secure connection.
If you are booking tickets online using a public computer and need to enter any credit card information, look for “HTTPS” at the beginning of the web address or URL to make sure the site is as secure as possible.
Today’s advanced technology has helped to make a plethora of things easier, including traveling, staying in touch with friends and family, getting work done on the go, being entertained, and more. For most, having an electronic device like a cell phone, tablet, or laptop is crucial for a complete travel experience. These perks do come with drawbacks and increased risks for cyber theft and the compromise of personal information. In this guide, we have done our best to elaborate on the security measures you can take to travel safely. While our tips are not foolproof, it goes without saying that every measure taken can help to reduce the chances of identity theft. We encourage you to explore other resources to stay informed about fraud and identity theft.
Below are more resources on taking precautionary actions to protect your personal information, data, and identity while you are away from home.
- National Geographic – Practical Tips for Protecting Your Data While Traveling
- Federal Trade Commission – Avoid Scams When You Travel
- McAfee – How to Keep Your Data & Devices Safe While Traveling
- Harvard University – Keeping Your Data Safe Abroad
- Business News Daily – Cybersecurity While Traveling: Tips and Tricks
- National Counterintelligence and Security Center – Traveling Overseas with Mobile Phones, Laptops, PDAs, and Other Electronic Devices