A few years ago, I returned from a beach vacation to find that someone had ordered phones in my name while I was away. I had broken one of my own vacation rules and posted a picture on social media. Apparently, it was just enough to let someone know that I was not at home. While there are no foolproof ways to prevent fraud, at home or on vacation, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risks. Justin Lavelle, communications director at BeenVerified, www.beenverified.com, an online service that provides background checks offered our readers tips to minimize the chance of a travel-related data breach.
Book your stay through a central reservation center. “If you book your stay through a central reservation system, rather than at the hotel or directly through the hotel itself, you would not be affected by the kind of malware that causes the majority of these data breaches because your card would not be processed at the location where the breach was taking place,” Lavelle said.
Bill items to your room. “Every time you use your card at your hotel or resort, you’re more vulnerable to a malware attack,” he said. “The simple answer is to not use your credit card at the hotel, but rather bill your purchases to your room. And if you do have to use your card, don’t let it out of your sight. While most hotels and restaurants are wiser to this these days and use a portable swipe machine to handle your transaction table side, some are still going old school, which means having your credit card out of your sight and vulnerable to having the data skimmed, or otherwise copied.”
Be wary of public internet connections. “Often hotels will offer free Wi-Fi in their common areas, but these aren’t necessarily properly secured and could leave you open to identity theft,” Lavelle said. “If you are using your phone or computer to engage in any financial transactions, or anything with private information and passwords. If you must do more sensitive transactions using public connections, make sure they are secured with https:// instead of http:// — the ‘s’ stands for secure, where the data used is being encrypted for protection.”
Use bank ATM’s only. “Avoid using private ATM machines, at times provided for convenience but which are more vulnerable to tampering by the installation of a card reader than a unit located in a bank,” Lavelle said. “Better still, stick to putting your travel purchases on your credit card. If it is compromised, the money is not coming directly from your account, so your exposure to financial liability is more limited. Different debit cards have different rules about how much liability you will have if your card is lost and you don’t report it right away, or if it is compromised. While most will honor zero liability policies, the money is still at least temporarily gone from your account, which can cause financial and personal distress.”
Use only one card for travel. “By using a dedicated card for travel, you will more quickly find out about breaches that occur after your travel dates because they will not be blended in with your day-to-day credit card transactions,” he said.
Keep a close eye on your statements. Even if you only use a certain card for travel, continue to check your statements or your account online regularly to make sure there aren’t latent fraudulent charges,” Lavelle said. “Thieves will often steal information but not use it for months, long after your trip is over.”
Change passwords and PINS. “If you can, change your passwords or PINs for your credit card, after your vacation,” Lavelle advised.
If your data was obtained fraudulently, it will be of more limited use to a thief without the all important PIN codes.