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5 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft You Need to Know

By: Jim Wilcox, CFE, CAMS, AVP-Risk Operations, Affinity Federal Credit Union

It’s officially summertime, and hopefully you’ll be able to take a well-deserved vacation this year! But fun family trips can, unfortunately, turn quickly to despair if you become a victim of identity theft or your finances are otherwise compromised. According to a 2018 Harris Poll study, nearly 60 million Americans have had their identities stolen.1 The ever-present risks of fraud and identity theft are further heightened when you leave home for an extended period of time. This occurs for reasons ranging from sophisticated cyberattacks by people who use technology and social media to discover that you’re away, to old-fashioned thieves operating in tourist areas with which you are unfamiliar stealing vital personal documents. But the purpose of this blog is not to scare you out of taking a vacation; indeed, at Affinity we wholeheartedly recommend travel! Rather we hope you’ll follow these five tips to prevent identity theft and keep your finances safe this summer. Don’t start off on the trip of your dreams and end up part of that “60 million” nightmare statistic!

Travel

Essential Tips to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

1. Tell your bank or credit union you’re going away (and where). You should always inform your financial institution that you are going away before you do so, as they will be more vigilant in spotting suspicious activity in your accounts. If you’re an Affinity member, we urge you to let us know if you will be traveling and where – and from what cards and accounts – we should expect charges. We will proactively monitor for fraud and keep in touch with you about any unusual actions taken in your name.

2. Use a credit card, not a debit card or cash. The key difference between a credit card and a debit card is that a debit card charge represents an immediate loss of cash, while a credit card charge amounts to an “I.O.U” to pay later. Therefore, a fraudulent credit card charge, which leaves ample time to be discovered and disputed, is preferable to one that withdraws money directly from your account. When you’re traveling, therefore, it’s suggested you rely on credit rather than debit, as a stolen debit card or information pertaining to it can be far more devastating. For that same reason, you should avoid bringing large sums of cash with you on a trip. This isn’t necessarily a tip to prevent identity theft but is definitely sound advice for minimizing the risk of losing money. Once cash is gone, it’s gone. Credit leaves a lot more leeway.

3. Bring only one card – and keep it on you at all times. On that note, you should try to bring only one credit card if possible. Carrying more cards (or checkbooks) means more opportunities for your identity to be stolen. If you only have to worry about holding on to one card, your vacation will be more enjoyable.

4. Avoid technology and social media. Public Wi-Fi is a big gateway for hackers to steal passwords and other valuable information that are essential to securing your identity and finances. You should avoid being connected, if possible, unless it’s on a secured network. And this may be the most difficult thing to do of all in the age of the selfie, but stay off social media when you travel! Posting vacation pics and check-ins tells everyone else in the world – including hackers and fraudsters – that you’re not at home and you may not be paying attention. (This can also enhance the risk of a more old-fashioned type of theft – burglary!).

5. Make sure you have all relevant IDs secured, and copies at home. It’s virtually impossible to travel anywhere without some kind of identification, especially when you’re leaving the country. Keep driver’s licenses, passports and other forms of ID as secure as possible, and don’t keep two or more IDs in the same place (if your purse is stolen and both license and passport are within, that’s a lot worse than if only the passport was in there). Just as importantly, you should make copies of all these documents before you leave if you haven’t already, and entrust them to a family member or close friend. Finally, if a vital personal ID document is stolen, inform the local authorities immediately.

Summer is a time for fun, exploration and adventure. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned with security. Enjoy your vacation – and stay safe!

1 Retrieved from https://www.lifelock.com/learn-identity-theft-resources-how-common-is-identity-theft.html

This information is for informational purposes only and is intended to provide general guidance and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. Each person’s circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. You should seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, and/or legal counsel to discuss your specific needs before making any financial or other commitments regarding the matters related to your condition are made. - See more at: https://www.affinityfcu.com/tips-and-tools/affinity-connect-blog/2017/acronym-101-the-low-down-on-segs.aspx#sthash.HNRlWMk2.dpuf