How to avoid identity theft

It’s one thing to guard against being mugged when you travel but having to use public and hotel wifi as well as carrying personal documents, such as passports, and having to use your credit card in strange places also makes you vulnerable to identity theft. 

But these 10 tips should go a long way to protecting you from having your identity stolen when abroad.

1. Minimise your wallet or purse contents
If you don’t need it, unpack it. If you’re overseas, leave your Medicare card at home, as well as any bank statements, ID cards, and bank statements or receipts.

When you go out, only take the cards you’ll need. This may be your driver’s licence and a credit card. Even better would to leave your credit card at home and use a cash passport instead.

2. Don’t leave documents laying around
Back at your hotel room, you should pack away any documents that contain personal information. This may include your passport, cheque books, banking information, itineraries and tickets. Lock them in the safe, hide them in your bag or take them to the front desk and ask for them to be locked away in the hotel safe.

3. Take care when using shared wifi
Using shared connections, such as hotel and public wifi at cafés and bars, often cannot be avoided when you’re on holiday. However, unless it’s absolutely necessary, you should avoid logging into your online banking, email accounts or making online payments when using public wifi. Most of the time, you’ll see a warning saying something along the lines of: “This connection is unsecured and others may see your information.” If this message pops up, be extra vigilant of the information you relay.

To go one step further, you could always use a clever plugin called HTTPS Everywhere when you’re using your own computer on shared wifi, try Authentic8 when using shared computers, or follow our tips for stying safe when using public wifi.

4. Clean up your digital footprint
If using public computers, always clear your history after an internet session, especially after using social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Check out how to clear your browser history and empty your cache on our handy tech pages.

5. Use a special ‘holiday’ email address
Head to Gmail and create a special email address that you use when you travel. That way, you’ll never have to log in to your personal or work emails, leaving them exposed to hackers and other scammers.

6. Steer clear of generic ATMs
Only use ATMs bank or major financial institutions, as they are more secure and checked more often for card readers and other tech traps set up by scammers.

7. Keep an eye on your credit statements
For peace of mind, find a secure internet connection and regularly check your credit card and bank statements while you’re on holiday. Thieves using RFID scanners can access your credit card, using it to make purchases – often in multiples of smaller transactions rather than large ones – and relying on the fact that you probably won’t check your account statements until you’re back at home. This gives them ample time to rack up quite a bill before being caught.

8. Secure your smartphone
You probably don’t realise it, but if you’re a Facebook user on your smartphone or device, it will keep you logged in and if this device is stolen, scammers and thieves could easily access a lot of your personal information just by picking up your phone. Same goes for eBay and any apps that access PayPal, credit cards or your bank accounts.

Before you travel, make sure you have a secure password for your phone. Also, you may wish to consider deleting any sensitive apps, such as your online banking, social media and online retail apps that offer instant payment systems.

9. Change your login details
There are two ways you can go about this: before you go, you could change your passwords and PINS for all your banking, social media and other online sites linked to your banking or PayPal, or you could do it once you return.

10. Check again
Once you’re back on home soil, check all your banking and credit statements, and PayPal, eBay and Amazon for unknown transactions, as well as your insurance statements for mysterious claims.

Have you ever had your identity stolen? What safeguards can you recommend to our members?

Related articles:
Avoiding identity theft
What to do if you get mugged
Aussie identity theft on the rise

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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