The travel industry isn't immune from scams, many of which can lead to identity theft. Consumers sometimes give scammers their credit card information, Social Security number, bank account information, or other personal data, opening themselves up to this kind of theft. You also risk becoming the victim of identity theft while traveling because a thief could steal your confidential information.
Taking steps to prevent identity theft before, during, and after your trip can protect you. Read on to learn more.
Avoid Identity Theft Travel Scams
Sometimes scammers will try to get your personal information by calling you (or emailing) and saying you’ve won a trip as a prize. But you'll have to provide certain details about yourself in order to claim the prize. The scammer then uses this information to steal your identity and open up new accounts in your name.
As with most things in life, if a travel prize sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some danger signs to watch out for:
- The caller or email says that you were "specially chosen" or "awarded" a trip as a prize, but you haven't entered any contests.
- You must disclose your Social Security number, bank account number, or other private information to collect your prize.
- The caller uses high pressure tactics to get you to reveal your personal details.
- You must make a payment to collect your prize.
- The caller or email makes vague references to "major airlines" or " major hotels," without saying which ones are part of the prize. (If actual airlines or hotels are named, you can call those businesses to find out if the prize is legitimate.)
If someone uses one or more of these tactics, he or she is likely phishing for your personal information.
Avoid Identity Theft Before, During, and After Traveling
When you travel, you are at risk of identity theft. For example, thieves might pick your pocket and use your personal information to open new credit card accounts or drain your bank accounts. Use the tips below to protect yourself from identity theft.
Sometimes what you leave at home is as important as what you bring on a trip. Your decision making will depend partly on personal choice and the safety of your destination. But here are some general tips for most everyone:
- Keep your wallet or purse light. Bring only one or two credit cards. Leave your checkbook, Social Security card, library card, and other unnecessary items in a safe place at home.
- Put personal documents in your carry-on luggage. Bags that you check in are not safe places for your credit cards, cash, and valuables.
- Create a list of account numbers, credit limits, and customer service phone numbers for your credit cards. Bring it with you so you'll know who to contact if your wallet or purse is stolen. The best place to store this list is in your locked hotel safe.
- Decide how you'll pack your laptop. If you bring one on your trip, make sure it's secure. It should be password-protected (in case of theft), and have the latest Internet security software installed. Also consider disguising the laptop in a nontraditional case, like a duffel bag.
- Slip an envelope into your luggage. This will be handy for collecting credit card receipts and ATM receipts while you're traveling, so you can dispute any inaccurate charges after you're home and get the bill.
To avoid identity theft while you're on your trip, take these precautionary steps.
- Use the hotel safe. Never leave personal documents like your passport in your hotel room.
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. Using a credit card protects you from having a thief drain your account before you know there's a problem. (Learn about your liability for unauthorized credit and debit card charges.)
- 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 or credit cards.
- Wear a money pouch close to your body. Use it to store your passport, credit card, and cash. Keeping these items close to your skin (preferably under your clothes), makes it much harder for a thief to steal them.
- 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.
After You Get Home
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. Also keep an eye on your credit report and respond to any inaccurate information.
If you think your identity was stolen, see Stolen Identity? Here’s What to Do. Also, consider freezing your credit file with the three major credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It’s also a good idea to file your taxes early—as soon as you can—before a scammer does.
Get More Information
For comprehensive identity theft information, visit the FTC's identity theft website at IdentityTheft.gov.