The feeling of vulnerability is both scary and irritating when you have something stolen while traveling. You cannot be 100% protected from it but there are some key things that you can do to make yourself more aware and less vulnerable to theft.
It can happen anywhere, at any time and can be take on various forms such as a pickpockets, scams, stolen purse, camera or luggage, identity theft, or a stolen passport. The problem is that thieves target travelers—it’s a fact. Travelers on vacation tend to relax and let down their guard which makes them vulnerable. Let’s look at how you can be more vigilant and limit your vulnerability.
Prepare before you leave
- Before you depart, make copies of and/or scan your key documents—your passport, driver’s license, credit card numbers, itinerary, airline tickets, hotel reservation, car-rental confirmation, prescriptions (for both eyewear and/or medicines), extra passport photos, and take them with you.
- Leave copies with someone who can send them to you should you need them.
- Consider scanning these documents to a cloud account you can access from a computer.
- Take photos of your electronics (camera, tablet, laptop, smartphone, head phones, etc.) and consider purchasing theft insurance if not covered by your homeowner’s policy. The photos will help later if you have to file an insurance claim.
- Unpack before you leave. Empty the stuff from your wallet/purse that is not essential. Don’t take anything you don’t need–leave your social security card and checkbook at home.
- Call your credit card carrier and let them know that you will be traveling out of the country—tell them where and when—so they can note this in your file and not block foreign transactions as suspicious.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are abundant in places frequented by tourists. They tend to target Americans because they are smart and we tend to stand out in a crowd and pay little attention to our surroundings. They use that to their advantage. They will distract you for an instant with a touch or bump while they lift your wallet. They will approach you with an army of small children begging for a handout while they steal your stuff. Sophisticated ones will spill something on you on the street or in a café and offer the clean it up while they rifle your pockets.
I was on the subway in Munich when I looked at the window of the train car and saw the reflection of a young man who looked like a student with his hand inside the pocket of my blazer and I didn’t feel a thing!! It was surreal to see this man picking my pocket and I was TOTALLY UNAWARE. The second that I spotted it and grabbed his arm, he jumped for the door just as the trains stopped. The lesson here is that he looked like a clean, innocent student with a backpack and I let my guard down for just an instant—and he used it.
Don’t let your guard down, don’t be sympathetic to the beggars and do be wary of any bodily contact—it is meant to distract you. Be aware of who is around you and where your belongings are—even in an airport. UK-based Versapak has reported that 11% of traveling Britons have had items stolen in airports and 64% know a friend or family member who has been the victim of a pickpocket. Distraction accounts for 42% of pickpocket victims at airports.
- Don’t keep all your cash or credit cards in one place or pocket. Split it up—that reduces the chance that a thief will get everything you have.
- Wear a money belt. It is cumbersome but it works.
- Have a dummy or throw away wallet. Put a couple of bills together with an expired credit card that you can hand to a thief if you are mugged.
- Wrap your wallet with a couple of big rubber bands—it makes it harder to slide out of your pocket.
- Keep your wallet in a zippered pocket in your pants or jacket. And don’t constantly touch it to see if it is there—this is a clear signal to thief on where to find your money.
- Ladies, keep your purse in front of you and with your arm over it. Having it hang from your shoulder by your side is an invitation for a quick purse snatch.
This is a growing problem worldwide and travelers are especially vulnerable. They use unsecured internet connections, carry lots of personal documentation and use credit cards at places they will never go to again. Here are tips to avoid identify theft when you travel.
- Get a chip card—if your travel to Europe you need the new style credit card with a chip and PIN. Magnetic swipe cards don’t work there. The new EMV cards provide more security than a magnetic-stripe card. They will be required after October 2015 but you can call your bank and get one now.
- Have two separate credit cards (different accounts) issued by different banks and don’t carry them in the same pocket. If you lose one you will have a backup.
- Let your card company know you will be traveling abroad. They make a note on your record and will be less likely to block a transaction that is out of the country.
- Leave a copy of your credit card number and customer service number with a friend—this will help if you have to report a stolen card.
- When you have access to a secured internet connection, check your bank statement and credit card account for suspicious activity. Identity thieves target travelers because they rely on the delay in discovery since most people don’t check their accounts until they are back home. Don’t give them a head start; shut them down quickly.
Shared internet connections (Wi-Fi).
- Don’t use unsecured wireless connections. Be very careful and very cautious.
- Use the more secure WEP, WPA, and WPA2 networks, which require a password to log on. If you must use an open (non-password-protected) network, immediately log out of banking, social media, and email accounts when finished with each session. To protect your data, use only encrypted websites (those with “https” in the address) when using free Wi-Fi networks. If you see a warning that a site you are entering is not secured, is risky, or contains malware, don’t proceed.
- Avoid accessing your bank account, work email or other sensitive accounts on an open network.
- Consider a browser plugin like HTTPS Everywhere, a Firefox and Chrome extension that lets you encrypt your communications.
- If you are a business person and must login, consider a service like Authentic8 which runs the browser in a sandbox in the cloud where all connections and data are kept secured in a silo.
- If you must use a public computer, delete all cookies and browsing history when you are done. Some web sites (such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) are set up to keep you logged in when you close the browser unless you specifically log off. Don’t trust the machine—do it yourself.
- Lock your smartphone. Always, always, have a passcode set on your phone so that no one can gain access if you lose it. Don’t make it simple like 1111 or 0000.
- Turn off the automatic connection to Wi-Fi hotspots. Phones are just as susceptible to being hacked at public Wi-Fi hotspots as are tablets and laptops.
- Before you travel, delete any sensitive apps from your phone or tablet such as banking apps, social networks, etc. You can always reinstall them when you get home.
- Activate phone finding programs like Find My iPhone. If it hasn’t been stolen this may help you locate it.
- Don’t give out your phone number. You may need to provide a phone number for your airline and hotel reservations, but beyond that, avoid giving out your phone number while traveling. An identity thief with your phone number has instant access to you via spam calls; they may be able to look up your home address and personal information as well. One popular scam involves the caller claiming to be a representative from your bank and requesting your credit card number; never respond to these calls. Just hang up; then call your bank. Another scam targets hotel guests with a call reportedly from the front desk, requesting a new credit card number to secure the reservation. Never give that information out over the phone; instead, hang up and walk down to the front desk in person.
- Don’t CheckIn on Facebook and post where you are—it tells a thief you are not at home. Be sensible—don’t advertise that you are away from home for a long period.
- Log Out if you Log In. If the program (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) remains open and you lose your device, it can give a thief access to your friends while posing as you. They can get your friends to disclose all sorts of useful information about you.
- Don’t post travel plans on social media—it invites unscrupulous people to take advantage of your absence.
- If you absolutely must post on Facebook then post a “thank you “ to the house sitter who is staying in your house protecting it while you are gone. At least the casual unscrupulous reader will not think that your house is ripe for plucking.
- Don’t use your work email account.
- Use a dedicated travel email address. Don’t give a thief the chance to gain access to your work email account. Use a personal email address when traveling, one at which you do not store sensitive information and which, if hacked, would not be ruinous, and use it exclusively. You may see an address such as email@example.com; this is a travel-exclusive email which can work well.
- Use cash—avoid ATMs or at least use with caution. They are prime spots for muggers. If you must use one, then use one at a bank. It is less likely to have a card skimmer/cloner designed to steal your card number and PIN. Never use a generic ATM at a hotel, convenience store or on the street.
- Do not leave your luggage unattended even for a moment at an airport, train station or on the street. 36% of people who lost luggage at an airport had it happen while they were asleep at the boarding gate or in the departure lounge and 12% while going to the toilet or to an airport shop.
- Don’t pack expensive items in checked bags. Theft by TSA agents and baggage handlers is not unheard of. BTW, the airlines are not responsible for items stolen from your checked bags. Pack those valuables in a carry on bag.
- Never leave anything of value in your hotel unless it is locked in a safe.
- Never leave anything visible in a car.
- This is a very serious situation. See our blog post Passport–Lost or Stolen? for tips on what to do and how to replace it. Bottom line—you can’t come home until you replace it.
Wrap up when you return home.
- Change all passwords after you get back home from a trip.
- After you get home, check your bank activity, credit card activity, credit score and medical insurance claim activity for anything that you don’t recognize. Do this for a couple of weeks. Report any suspicious activity.
One last bit of advice:
Be sure you’ve considered how you’ll get home if you have an emergency situation pop up! Don’t have a plan?…