To avoid identity theft while you're on your trip, take these precautionary steps.
- Use the hotel safe. Never leave valuables or personal documents like your passport in your hotel room.
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. That protects you from having a thief drain your account before you know there's a problem.
- Avoid using checks. Checking account fraud is one of the most difficult types of identity theft to recover from, and being far from home will only add to your frustration. Pay for things with cash, traveler's checks, or credit cards.
- Wear a money pouch close to your body. Use it to store your money, credit cards, and passport. Keeping these close to your skin (preferably under your clothes), makes it much harder for a thief to steal them. But don't keep all your cash in the pouch -- spread it around, with some in your wallet, a little in your suitcase at the hotel, and some in a hiding place of your devising, such as your shoe.
- Keep an eye on your laptop. Never let your laptop out of your sight, especially while in an airport, train, or bus station. And don't leave it lying around your hotel room, especially if it has sensitive information on it. The hotel safe is usually the best place for it.
- Never access personal information, especially bank accounts, from public computers. Ask your hotel to recommend reputable Internet cafes or WiFi spots before you do any online connecting. Also learn to erase your online history after using a computer.
- Use only ATM machines located inside banks. While traveling, you'll come across ATM machines in gas stations, convenience stores, and various other places, but they aren't always safe.
- Beware of pickpockets. Keep your radar up for suspicious bumps or efforts to distract you, and keep your hands near your purse or wallet (which is best kept in a front pocket). Keep credit cards and identification in a secure place. If you carry a wallet, avoid keeping any personal information in it.
- Don't tell the online world you're away. Many travelers keep family and friends up to date on their adventures by posting to a blog, social network, or photo-sharing service. But look into how private these online communications really are. Don't make it too easy for anyone to figure out that you're not home and target your house for burglary.
Think you escaped the thieves? Hopefully you're right. Nevertheless, pay special attention to your credit card bills for a few months after you get home, watching for charges that aren't yours.
For more information on protecting yourself and your children from America's fastest-growing crime, get Stopping Identity Theft: 10 Easy Steps to Security, by Scott Mitic (Nolo).
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