Top Ten Tips for Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
These days, identity theft seems inevitable whether you leave home or not, however, traveling and living abroad introduces additional risks of having your financial identity compromised. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking advantage of the convenience which credit cards and online banking provide people, especially people who have created a life far from their home country, it just means that you should be taking extra precautions with all of your financial information. These ten tips will help you keep your identity secure wherever you roam in the world.
Protect Yourself from Having Your Identity Stolen While Abroad:
- Don’t Leave Loose Ends in Your Wallet: You know how it is: wallets become a catch-all. Whether it’s a repository for every receipt someone hands you for the last 6 months or that extra store credit card that the cashier talked you into in order to save 25%, the clutter adds up quickly, and it’s easy to forget what exactly it is you’ve got in there. Chances are, it’s mostly a whole lot of stuff you don’t need. But when you hit the streets in foreign countries, follow the “travel light” maxim, and pare down to just the essentials. A single form of ID, a single credit card, some cash and anything that you will need specific to that day’s outing. Not only will you enjoy a lighter pocket or purse, but should the wrong person get their hands on your wallet, there will be a lesser opportunity for them to access your identity and simplify your process of doing damage control of canceling what was in the wallet.
- Communicate With Your Banking Institutions: Even if you’re living abroad permanently, chances are you still have financial ties with your home country. Let all financial institutions you work with at home know in advance what sort of habits they can expect from you while you live or travel to foreign countries. Banks have a vested interest in keeping your identity safe, and they are one of the most important first lines of defense, capable of putting up red flags as soon as they spot suspicious activity, but they need to know what to look for, and for that, communication is key. For instance, if you live abroad, but plan on visiting a third country on holiday and using your home country credit card it’s important to let the issuing bank know that. It will make it easier for them to spot a problem in the future, and it provides the added advantage of avoiding some unpleasant experiences: a long holiday weekend on a Greek island with no ATM and no open banks and a credit card that’s been shut off by your bank? Skip that by planning ahead. (Also Read: Best International Credit Cards)
- Make Sure All the Cards You Travel with Have an Embedded Chip: Popular in Europe for some time, and more recently becoming mainstream in the United States, chip cards rely on the much more secure chip technology as opposed to a strip for transactions. The chip has security features that close vulnerabilities to skimming technology. No one wants to have to worry about being virtually pick-pocketed as they walk down the street.
- Beware of Public Computers: Traveling means accessing the internet wherever you can, from hotel lobbies to internet cafes. But if you’re using that for conducting financial transactions, whether online banking or online shopping, you need to take precautions. It’s truly best to avoid handling any financial from a public computer. One way to do this is to delegate all financial matters to when you have a secure connection on a smartphone. But if you must use a public computer, make absolutely sure that all personal and financial information has been fully wiped before logging out, and then double-check that you haven’t left any valuable information behind.
- You Can’t Trust Public WiFi Either: Not only are public computers problematic but so is public wifi. As tempting as it is to get everything done at the ubiquitous Starbucks on their free and fast wifi, you might find it worth the investment to purchase a private source of portable wifi, through a hotspot system.
- Don’t Take Bills With You: If you’re traveling it’s best to pay all your bills before departing, however, if you’ll be gone for longer than a month, that might not be an option. Look into setting up automatic bill pay or pay online (from a secure connection). What you don’t want is to have copies of bills in your luggage. These are prime targets for identity thieves, allowing them to wreak havoc with your finances.
- Look Into a Credit Freeze: A credit freeze denies all access to your credit history, putting a major obstacle in the way of potential identity thieves. It’s a pretty major step to take, however, if you’ll be away a long time, it’s a pretty good way to guarantee peace of mind. One good thing about the Equifax credit breach? They’re currently offering credit freezes for free.
- Secure the Important Documents: Especially if your travels are for an extended period of time, you’ll need to take some important documents with you. But be certain to unpack them whenever you arrive, and to keep them fully secure, both in transit and wherever it is you’re staying.
- Lock Your Smartphone: For the vast majority of people, smartphones have become the place we keep absolutely everything, from sensitive financial information to travel itineraries to our personal journals. This makes them the ideal target for identity thieves. Make are that to keep your phone locked and consider adding in a couple of extra security measures.
- Mind Your Phone Number: One of the best parts of traveling is making new friends. And keeping in touch with them usually means sharing your phone number. If you’re using a country-specific SIM card with a number that you don’t use for anything official then share away. But beware of sharing your official phone number. This is often used to confirm your identity and is not a piece of information to want openly available. Whether it’s the restaurant you’re making reservations or a hotel always ask if you can confirm over email. And while you’re at it, consider making a dedicated email for your time abroad that is different from the one you use for business and finances.