Identity thefts are rampant these days. More so when you are on vacation - out of your comfort zone and mostly not on your guard. Thieves, counterfeiters and fraudsters are more intelligent than you can imagine. With each passing day, they discover new and innovative ways to get hold of the information required to steal someone’s identity.
What is Identity Theft?
A person is a victim of identity theft when a perpetrator obtains their personal information and then uses it in an unauthorized way for their gain. Once a thief gets access to your personal information, they can do a large number of different things with the information. Financial frauds such as credit card fraud, bank fraud and telecommunications fraud are the most common implications of identity theft.
Consequences of Identity Theft
When your identity is stolen, you get exposed to several vulnerabilities. If a fraudster uses your details for any monetary transaction, you could land in deep debt. In most cases of financial fraud, you can prove the fraud and you won't be liable for the debt. However, sometimes it can be very challenging to prove that you are not at fault and your financial health can be ruined. Even if you succeed in absolving yourself of the responsibility of the debt, your credit report might contain the incorrect information which takes a lot of effort to rectify. Your credit score will suffer and you might lose out on good credit opportunities. A problematic credit report can be a huge hindrance - you could be even refused basic necessities like a new phone connection or a rental apartment! The consequences can be quite harsh. You should be aware of ways to keep yourself safe.
Tips to Protect Your Identity While Traveling
As I already mentioned, people on vacation are the most common targets of these fraudsters, let me tell you how you can secure your identity and protect yourself from frauds while you are traveling.
Protect Your Pocket
Don't carry all your cards while traveling. Think wisely and choose the best cards for travel. Take along only those credit and debit cards that you plan to use and one extra card as backup. Keep your wallet secure and beware of pickpockets. Monitor your balances from time to time to identify a possible foul play.
Avoid using your debit card for purchases. Fraud committed through lost debit cards put you in a vulnerable position as the fraudster gets access to all your hard earned money which will be gone in a jiffy. The fraud protection policies for lost or stolen debit cards are quite weak. The bank might not cover the fraudulent charges, and the lost amount might never be reversed. Moreover, the banks take a lot of time to resolve issues pertaining to a lost or stolen debit card. They have time up to ten days to investigate your claim and it might take even longer to replace the funds in your account. If the account concerned contained all your savings, then you would have to manage without money for a long time. Such a situation would severely affect your finances.
You could sign up for fraud alerts. Many banks and card issuing companies offer the facility of notifying you through text or email messages in case of any unusual or suspicious activity in your accounts. You can receive these alerts even when you are traveling, provided that you have access to your phone and email. Find out if your issuer has this facility and sign up for it whenever you travel. If not anything else, it will give you peace of mind and you can enjoy a worry-free vacation.
Most airports, shopping malls, restaurants and coffee shops make life easier for us by providing us with free wifi. It could be very convenient, but it isn't safe at all. Hackers can easily pry into your personal information through these open networks.
While texting and browsing on public networks are safe, shopping and banking aren't. The server may record your data and counterfeiting gets easier through this. Use your own cellular data connection for safe and secure transactions. In case of urgent need, consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to keep your information safe.
However, your cellphone would most likely be on roaming and you might try to cut down on data roaming charges by using these free networks. You may use public networks for browsing the Web, but you must ensure that you are not sending sensitive data over the public Wi-Fi. Always set your device to forget that network when you log off.
Phone Security Features
With the advent of technologies like e-wallets and UPI, you must probably be using your phone as a mobile wallet. It means that your bank account information is saved in several apps on your phone. What happens if your phone is stolen? The thief can easily access all your data without even putting much effort.
What should you do? Keep your screen locked whenever you are not using your phone. Most phones these days come with several security features. There are fingerprint locks, PIN codes, passwords, gesture locks, etc. You can separately lock each app to add an extra layer of security to those apps that you use for banking and shopping. If your phone doesn't have these security features, you can download a mobile security app.
If your phone is stolen, you can trace it through GPS. Keep a mobile tracker app installed on your phone. It can be remotely activated and you will be able to retrieve your phone from the location pinpointed by the tracker. Alternatively, you could install an app that can be remotely activated to erase all the data stored on the device.
Frauds through ATMs are in vogue these days. You might unsuspectingly go to the ATM to withdraw money, not knowing that fraudsters can hack the machine to steal your data. Carefully scrutinize the machine before you swipe your card or enter your PIN. If you find loose sockets, exposed wires or anything that looks odd and out of the ordinary, avoid using the machine. It is safer to use an ATM located within the premises of a bank.
You should memorize your ATM PIN. Many people are foolish enough to write it on their cards or save it on their phones. It's an unsafe practice. You could be mugged and your money would then be in jeopardy. If you are unable to trust your memory, you could consider writing down a clue to the PIN in your travel pouch or your phone instead of writing down the actual PIN. Just make sure that the clue is utterly inscrutable to anyone else. You should also be on your guard while typing your PIN - thieves at times watch over your shoulder. Always block other people's view of the keypad while entering your PIN. The time between entering the PIN and collecting the cash is the most vulnerable moment. Be vigilant.
Thieves use card skimmers to steal your card information. You should carefully inspect the ATM before inserting your card into the machine. Look for loose, crooked, loose or damaged machine parts; check the card slot attentively for odd bulges. A card skimmer can capture your card information as well as your keystrokes. Some hackers can trap your card or cash in the ATM; check the card slot before inserting or swiping it. If the card gets stuck, you must not re-enter your PIN. If the cash is dispensed but stuck in the machine, you must not leave the ATM. Call the bank for help. Thieves often pose as good samaritans and offer help in such delicate situations. Do not seek help from strangers - politely refuse if anyone offers to help.
Fake Phone Calls
A common and easy way for fraudsters to get your personal information is through calls. They might impersonate the hotel reception or the airline you are traveling with and ask you to verify or confirm your bank account details. Hang up immediately. Never share such sensitive information through the phone. If the hotel reception really needs to verify something, they should do it in person and not over the phone. Same goes for airline operators.
Stay on Scam-alert
Scammers and conmen prefer targetting unsuspecting tourists. Be alert from the moment you step out of the airport. Watch out for overtly "friendly" strangers offering help, exploitative cabbies with broken or faulty meters, street vendors and beggars. Scammers often hang out in pairs. One might distract you while the other mugs you. Keep an eye on strangers loitering around ATMs and shops where you would be vulnerable. They can trick you or mug you easily. Read up and educate yourself on the common scams and mishaps reported in the area.
Leave all your financial files and sensitive documents at home. Tourists are easy targets; if your bag containing all important documents is snatched away, your data will be compromised. Same goes for the credit cards that you don't intend to use on the trip: let them stay in the safety of your home.
Being a little alert and conscious can work wonders. Apart from following the guidelines mentioned above, keep a strict eye on your purse or wallet. Beware of pickpockets. A bit of carelessness can lead to identity theft and financial fraud. Be vigilant at all times to stay safe.