I love traveling—experiencing different places and cultures—so I go on as many vacations as I can. This year, I am taking a road trip through New England to see the fall leaves change colors. I’ve heard it is just spectacular. Since the trip is only seven months away, I have begun not only planning what to do and where to stay, but also how to stay safe. As part of my trip I will be visiting Boston, and as is the case in any big city, a visit there means an increased risk of pick pocketing and identity theft. I want to take a minute to stress that these crimes happen more than you might think.
A few years ago, I was honeymooning in Washington D.C. (I am a presidential history lover), and my husband had his pocket picked. We lost all of our IDs, credit cards and cash. Luckily, we had spare items at the hotel. It didn’t ruin our trip but definitely put a damper on it. Let me tell you, trying to get back on an airplane without a photo ID isn’t fun. Now we travel smarter to avoid being the victim of potential identity theft and I’d like to share what I have learned to keep you safe, too!
Reduce what you carry: Only carry what you absolutely need. You should never have your Social Security card on you – unless you are starting a new job. Make sure you know which cards you brought with you in case they need to be canceled. One easy way to remember is to make a copy of the front and back of your cards and keep it in your suitcase (not your purse or wallet). If they are lost or stolen you can refer to that sheet for important phone numbers and the card numbers. Also have a spare photo ID such as a passport with you so you don’t have any trouble with traveling home. Keep your spare items secured in the hotel safe but change the combination first. Don’t take your checkbook either. Checks contain tons of valuable information for scammers such as your name, address, bank name, routing number and checking account number. And while you are away from home, if they have your address – it puts your home at risk.
Be wary at your hotel: A common scam involves someone calling your room pretending to be the front desk staff. They usually say there is an issue that requires you to provide your credit card number. If this happens, hang up and call or visit the front desk yourself to check. Another common scam involves the use of take-out menus. Thieves will often slip fake menus under hotel doors in hopes visitors will call and place an order with their credit cards. Double-check the reliability of take-out restaurants with hotel staff.
Be aware: Be aware of your surroundings especially in touristy areas as major tourist areas can be hotspots for card skimmers. Ladies, keep an eye on your purse. Hold it in front of you to help prevent purse-snatchers. Whenever possible, keep your debit or credit card in your possession. If a waiter or waitress takes it, keep an eye on them. Also, be sure to monitor your account for errant charges using mobile banking!
Use caution on wi-fi: Today, most public places offer free wi-fi for their customers. It’s nice because you don’t have to use all of your data, but it isn’t always secure. Make sure the wi-fi network is legit. Always manually select the network and know the exact name of the wi-fi network for the business. Scammers will sometimes set up free networks to fool you. Never log into websites that require personal information, like your online banking. If possible, avoid using public or shared computers as they can have information-stealing software installed on them.
Keep updated information on file: If you are traveling and something is suspicious, but your bank doesn’t have any way to contact you, your card could end up being temporarily restricted or worse yet – a charge that is fraudulent can clear. If you have a cellphone be sure that you have it listed on your accounts.
Remember to always be alert of your surrounds especially in a new place. Don’t let scammers ruin your vacation. I’d love to hear any fraud tips or questions you may have. Send them to Val@rivervalleycu.org. Safe travels!!