Avoiding Fraud Abroad: How to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling
April 24, 2018
By Jennifer Johnson
Personal Banker & Branch Manager
Vacations are meant for making memories — not worrisome phone calls!
However, a recent survey commissioned by Experian found nearly 30 percent of travelers have experienced identity theft while traveling, or know someone who has.
I just got back from an amazing trip to Akumal, Mexico, and although I didn’t have any problems (unless minor sunburn counts), it got me thinking: when you’re traveling internationally, it’s extremely important to protect your personal information, especially because vacation is a time when most of us are relaxing and letting our guard down! To protect yourself from identity theft abroad, you’ll need more than sunscreen.
Thankfully, identity theft and traveling don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Here is a list of travel tips to help prevent identity theft and fraud while traveling abroad:
1. Make Official Copies of All Important Documents
Many cases of identity theft abroad involve stolen passports, and trying to get anywhere without your passport is impossible. Make photocopies (or take high-quality pictures) of all the official documents you plan to bring on the trip, including your passport, driver’s license and any rental car paperwork. If any documents are lost or stolen, you’ll need multiple forms of identification in order to get new ones from the U.S. embassy or consulate. It is wise to bring a photocopied ID with you, stored separately from your original identification. And keep an extra copy in a safe, separate place — either with someone at home who you trust or digitally scanned and saved in secure cloud storage online.
2. Put Travel Alerts On Your Cards
Call your bank and credit card company and have them put travel alerts on your cards. In particular, let them know where you will be going and the dates you’ll be there. Financial companies are becoming much more diligent about tracking unusual activity on your card.
Also, only travel with the card(s) you’ll actually use — preferably, EMV chip-protected cards to protect against skimming — and leave the rest locked up at home. Finally, have your debit card and credit card emergency phone numbers written down in case you must report the cards as lost or stolen.
3. Order Foreign Currency From Your Bank
You might want to bring local currency for giving tips and buying things like food, drinks and souvenirs from local shops and cash-only vendors. Recently, my sister and I bought handmade wooden turtles from a Mayan family in a remote area of Mexico, and it’s a good thing we had cash because the family only accepted pesos!
For these instances, Security National Bank provides a foreign currency exchange service. We recommend ordering foreign currency two weeks prior to your trip to avoid exchanging money at your destination airport. Fees may be higher there, and exchange rates might not be accurate). Contact us for more information about currency exchange.
Also, make sure you know the exchange rate for the country you’re visiting. I used an ATM in Mexico and withdrew 500 pesos, thinking that would be adequate, but then I realized 500 pesos amounts to about $26 in American currency!
4. Stay in Places With Access to a Personal Safe
Wherever you plan on staying, ask the hotel or resort staff or vacation rental owners if there is a safe in your room or house. Use the safe to store your passport, immigration papers, jewelry and extra money. Every morning when you leave, only take the necessary items and amounts that you’ll use that day.
While in transit or otherwise unable to use a safe, make sure your valuables and personal documents are stowed safely in your luggage or on your person. Store important items deep in your bags, not in unprotected outer pockets where a thief could easily grab them while you’re not looking. Taking a few extra precautions and being aware of your surroundings is one of the best ways to avoid identity theft abroad.
5. Beware of Travel Alerts
Being aware of your immediate surroundings is important, but you should also check in about current events affecting the area you plan on visiting. You could pay attention to all the best identity theft travel tips and advice, but if you unknowingly travel to a very unsafe area, it’s going to be difficult to protect yourself.
While we were in Mexico, we encountered a peaceful protest in the town we were visiting. If we had known about it ahead of time, we might have avoided the area that day. There are many other, more dangerous instances where traveling requires caution. Refer to the State Department’s global list of travel advisories to keep yourself updated.
6. Pay Your Bills and Put a Hold on Mail Deliveries
No matter how much you trust your neighbor, it’s best to have the post office hold your mail until you return. Also, make sure your bills are paid before you leave because trying to transfer money or private information using public Wi-Fi is a recipe for an identity theft disaster
If a bill is due while you’re away, contact your financial institution or consider signing up for an online bill pay option and arranging payment for the correct date before you leave.
7. Put a Pause on the Social Media Posts
You might be tempted to post a slew of vacation selfies while you’re soaking up some rays, sipping on a margarita and generally reminding everyone back home what they’re missing. But if you do, you might as well be slapping a huge sign on your front door that says “Out of Town!” Save the social media for when you return.
8. Be Vigilant Upon Your Return
Many identity thieves are perfectly content to be patient now and strike later, when you least expect it. That’s why it’s important to check your financial accounts regularly, regardless of when you’ve been traveling. Not only does Security National Bank make this easy with online banking and our SNB Mobile App, we also have a Value Checking Account option that includes an extra layer of identity monitoring. We’re protecting you from fraud and identity theft abroad and at home.