The Spring travel season is upon us, and identity thieves, pickpockets, purse snatchers, and fraudsters will be on the prowl.
That makes it crucial to take steps to protect your money - and your identity - while on the road.
Follow these quick tips to keep your money safe while on vacation:
Leave sensitive items at home
Before you pack your bags, go through your wallet or purse, remove the items you don't need, and leave these items at home.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), you should consider leaving behind the following items:
- Social Security card
- Checkbook and deposit slips
- Birth certificate
- Credit card receipts
- Extra credit cards
- Library card
What should you always carry while on vacation? You will need essentials like your ID or Driver's License.
You should also make sure to bring photocopies of travel documents for safekeeping. That includes photocopies, in addition to the originals, of flight information, hotel information, and your ID. However, as the ITRC points out, it's a good idea to keep your photocopies and originals in 2 different locations.
Give your banks a heads up
Heading out of town? Call your bank and credit card issuers before you travel, especially before going overseas, and tell them your destination and travel dates.
Not only can this precaution keep the bank from denying your card while you're away from home, but it can also help banks and credit card issuers track any fraudulent activity. This can help them distinguish between your spending and any fraudulent spending that could occur.
If your bank or credit card company does detect suspicious spending activity, they will place a hold on your card, temporarily deactivating it.
Keep a copy of the toll-free numbers on the back of your cards in your luggage in case your wallet or purse is stolen.
Pay with a credit card
Your credit card is your safest method of payment, so make it your primary method of payment while on the road.
Federal law protects consumers from suffering major losses when credit cards are lost or stolen.
If there's any unauthorized use on your credit card, you are obligated to pay only the first $50 for all unauthorized charges made, according to the terms of the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you report your credit card as lost before any unauthorized charges are made, you will not owe anything at all.
Plus, depending on your credit card company, you may not have to pay any charges, regardless of when you report your card as lost - many companies now extend a zero-liability policy to customers.
This makes your credit card a safer method of payment than your debit card.
According to the FTC, if your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, and you report it before the thief uses the card, you won't lose any money. If you report it within 2 business days after you discover that it has been stolen, you will pay a maximum of $50. Reporting your missing debit card more than 2 days after loss, however, allows the charges to continue, and losses to escalate--as well as the possibility of your accounts being drained by the thief.
Thus, using a debit card can be risky.
If you absolutely have to take out cash while on your trip, be sure to only use securely located ATMs in order to minimize the possibility of thieves gaining access to your accounts. Fake Automated Teller Machines, or ATMs that have been illegally tampered with, allow thieves to steal cardholders' information, and have been known to be a problem in tourist areas, according to the ITRC.
Take extra precautions
It can pay to take a few extra precautions while on the go.
The ITRC suggests locking up all of your valuables in your hotel room safe while you stay there. Valuables include jewelry, laptops (or other personal electronic devices that may hold personal information), passports, and any sensitive documents with personal information.
Also, while out and about, be aware of your surroundings. You never know who may be looking over your shoulder, so be careful when you type in passwords or PINs into your phone or an ATM.
And be careful when logging on to public Wi-Fi. If you are on a public network, it's especially important that you do not log in to any sites connected to banking or personal information. This is because others on the network can intercept your data.
If you are on the go and want to check such a website, it may be safer to access it via your 3G or 4G cellular data on your tablet, according to StaySafeOnline.org, the website run by the National Cyber Security Alliance. However, if you don't absolutely need to log in to websites containing your personal information while in public, you may just want to wait until you return home or to another secure network.