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Published: 6/7/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

Experts offer tips on how to protect personal information while on vacation

BY PATRICIA SABATINI
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Inviting an identity thief along on your summer vacation may sound absurd, but that’s essentially what many people do by ignoring simple steps to protect their personal information.

Travelers are great targets for an ID thief because they’ve let their guard down, according to Peter Schoenrock, senior vice president of product management at the credit reporting bureau Equifax, based in Atlanta.

“You’re in the middle of town taking pictures, going to tourist attractions. Maybe you’re carrying a backpack. Those are prime spots for pickpockets,” he said. “You’re distracted. You’re in that vacation mindset. You’re out of your element.”

That’s hardly the only danger.

With the peak travel season approaching, Equifax has put together tips for battling ID thieves while on the road:

  • Place a hold on your mail. An overflowing mailbox can attract thieves looking for an easy way to steal personal information.
  • Don’t announce travel plans on social media. The information invites ID thieves to target your house while you’re away.
  • Clean out your wallet. Do you really need six credit cards and your library card on vacation? “If you lose your wallet, it’s just more that you have to deal with,” Mr. Schoenrock said.
  • Leave your laptop at home. If you must bring it, update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. And don’t access bank accounts while in a hotel room, coffee shop, or other public Wi-Fi location. “Bad actors can log into the same network and, at times, see the transmissions,” Mr. Schoenrock said.
  • Set up a travel alert on your credit card accounts. Call the 800 number to notify the card issuer where and when you’ll be traveling, especially if you’re going abroad. (If you don’t, the fraud department could mistakenly flag your account and deny your transactions.)
  • While staying at a hotel, lock important documents such as your passport in a safe.
  • Protect your smart phone. Create a password for access in case it is lost or stolen. Use an application with a GPS locator to find it.
  • Use ATMs at banks. Unbranded machines may be less secure, and the fees often are higher.
  • Don’t put your full name and address on luggage tags. The idea is to limit personal information that could fall into wrong hands. Your last name and phone number are enough information for contact if your suitcase is lost.
  • Tear up and discard used boarding passes, which often contain personal information.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sabatini is a reporter at the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.



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