By Becky Frost
It’s summer! Time to go visit the grandkids or fly away to an exotic location and completely check out, right? Think again. You may be leaving town, but not likely your online life. Today we have many options – smartphones, tablets and laptops – to remain connected while on the road. But if you’re not careful, the need to stay plugged in could put your identity at risk.
Identity theft is a serious crime that affects young and old alike. It only takes one important piece of information for identity theft to start – a Social Security card, a driver’s license or a bank account statement, for example. Making the situation worse, victims may not realize the damage for years, making awareness all the more important.
Unfortunately the risk of having your identity stolen can go up dramatically when you take a trip. That’s because there are certain activities associated with vacation that can increase our online and offline vulnerability. However, there are measures you can take on and offline that will protect you and your family. We at Experian’s ProtectMyID® suggest you implement the following tips to keep your identity safe during vacation:
Get your Own: Consider a portable router to create your own Wi-Fi hotspot for your own or your family’s devices. You’ll need a local SIM data card, which is available at most electronic stores or even airport kiosks. This will help you avoid using public Wi-Fi Spots.
Don’t Welcome Hackers: If you use public Wi-Fi, be very cautious of using unsecured networks. According to a 2012 Norton Cybercrime report, more than two-thirds of online adults use a free or unsecured Wi-Fi network, giving hackers free access to the networks. Make sure you are logging into secured or private network when you use Wi-Fi. If you aren’t sure, don’t visit sites that contain sensitive information, like bank accounts.
Be Careful about Being Social: Using social media while you travel can be a great way to share your family’s trip but remember- checking in or posting pictures can alert someone that your home is vacant! Make sure to set your home alarm, hire a house sitter or maybe the best option is to delay posts until you are back home. If you DO really want to share these photos while you are on vacation- make sure to set your privacy settings to “friends” only. This will help limit the number of people who actually see these pictures.
Make Sure it’s Legit: Before logging onto a website from your mobile device, make sure the URLs are legit. There are plenty of URL spoof sites out there, created in order to steal your information. Unfortunately mobile browsers do not show the URL, so it is best to bookmark your favorite sites after you type in the address.
Guard your Social Networks. If you have a blog or social accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, use the highest security settings possible to ensure your information, posts and photos aren’t being leaked onto the Internet.
Use Strong Passwords. Use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols and punctuation to make your passwords harder to crack.
Protect your Mobile Devices. Losing your mobile phone, a tablet or laptop can be just as bad as losing your wallet. Be sure to protect your mobile devices with strong passwords and encryption. Consider installing wiping software on your mobile device so that you can remove your information remotely if your phone is lost.
Avoid Skimming: If you have to use an ATM during your travels, be sure that it is in a secure location, and whenever possible, use one stationed at a bank branch. Fake ATMs are known to have been placed in high traffic tourist areas. Shield your pin entry with your other hand to avoid shoulder surfers.
These tips are important to follow while on vacation but it’s important to keep them in mind when you are out and about at home. With electronic devices becoming smaller and smaller, everyone’s online activity continues to become more mobile every day. Therefore, it is recommended you implement the above guidelines in your everyday life at places such as the local coffeehouse, shopping mall or library where you may want to use your phone to search for something online or send someone a photo of something interesting you found while out shopping, etc. Technology continues to make life more convenient in so many ways, and understanding and being well informed about its risks and how to mitigate them is vital to help keep your identity private and safe.
Becky Frost is senior manager of consumer education for Experian’s ProtectMyID.