By Becky Frost
Spring break is around the corner. It’s the perfect opportunity to take off with the entire family to escape and unwind at a faraway destination. Simply put, get away from it all. Or so you think! Like a baby with a bottle, most of us don’t want to part with our phone, tablet or laptop. Today’s family may want to leave town, but not their online life. No matter where we are, most of us want to check email, update our Facebook page and text our BFF anytime, anywhere. However, the need to remain connected could put your identity at risk.
Identity theft is a serious crime that does not discriminate, affecting both the young and old. Your identity can be stolen with as little as one important piece of information. All it takes is information such as a Social Security number, a driver’s license or a bank account statement to be accessed online by the wrong person for someone to become an identity theft victim. In worst case scenarios, it can take victims years to realize their identity has been used illegally to open fraudulent credit cards, obtain loans, etc., furthering the damage to their credit, making prevention and awareness all the more important.
Unfortunately, taking a trip can dramatically increase the risk of having your identity stolen when relying on unsecure public Wi-Fi and overlooking measures you can take on and offline that can protect your family. The good news is there are steps you can take to keep your identity safe and keep the good times rolling while on vacation. Identity theft protection product Experian’s ProtectMyID suggests you implement the following tips:
- Control Your Wi-Fi: A portable router will allow you to create your own hotspot for your family’s devices and avoid using public Wi-Fi spots. You’ll need a local SIM data card, which can be found at most electronic stores or even airport kiosks.
- Steer Clear of Hackers: If you must use public Wi-Fi, make sure you are logging into secured/private networks. Otherwise, the consequences of using an unsecured Wi-Fi network opens the door to hackers gaining access to the networks which can lead them to your login details and any credit card information you may have entered into it.
- Limit Online Socializing: Social media is a great way to highlight your trip to friends in real time however posting pictures or messages can alert someone that your home is vacant. If you just can’t help yourself, make sure to set your privacy settings on your Facebook page to “friends only” to help control the number of people who actually see your pictures. However, the best option is to delay posts until you are back home. Other safeguards to put in place are to set your home alarm and/or hire a house sitter.
- Is that URL the Real Deal?: There are plenty of URL spoof sites out there, created for the sole purpose of stealing your information. Since not all mobile browsers show the URL, it’s important to make sure the website is legitimate before logging onto it from your mobile device. Make it a habit 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.
- 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 thumb drive or laptop can be just as bad as losing your wallet. Be sure to protect your mobile devices with passwords and encryption.
- 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 ATM machines are known to have been placed in high traffic tourist areas. Shield your pin entry with your other hand to avoid shoulder surfers. Debit cards also provide thieves with a direct pipeline to your bank accounts. When used with a PIN, you need not sign for the purchase. When used for a “credit” purchase with a signature, no confirming PIN is needed. This is why debit cards are deemed valuable to thieves. It is also more difficult and time consuming to resolve fraudulent purchases made with debit cards than to resolve those made with credit cards.
It’s important to note that while these tips should be implemented while on vacation, they’re just as important to follow when you are out and about at home.
As mobile devices continue to play a larger role in our everyday lives, our online activity continues to increase in public places like the local coffeehouse or shopping mall. Technology has made life more convenient in so many ways, but understanding and being well informed about the dangers that lurk out in cyberspace is vital to help keep your family’s identity private and safe.
About Becky Frost: Becky Frost is Senior Manager of Consumer Education for Experian Consumer Services, which offers credit monitoring products like ProtectMyID. Find Becky on Google Plus.