The summer travel season is officially here and you may be planning some well-deserved rest and relaxation. If your vacation plans include leaving home, remember to plan ahead to protect yourself from theft, fraud, and plain old inconvenience.
Tourists in unfamiliar locales are often targeted by muggers, identity thieves and pickpockets. While it’s good to let your hair down, don’t let your guard down when you’re away from home. To help protect yourself, consider these suggestions when you’re on holiday.
1. Travel light. Carry only the credit cards you will need and leave the rest at home. You can also leave your checkbook at home, since credit cards are accepted virtually universally. Go through your wallet and remove any card with your Social Security number or other sensitive information. If you must carry such a card, make a copy and remove the last four digits of your SSN. Do pack an ATM or debit card for withdrawing cash from trusted ATMs.
2. Use a credit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability for unauthorized charges, or if you are simply dissatisfied with a purchase. For major purchases, this makes credit cards a smarter choice than debit cards and even cash. Be sure to bring contact information for each of your cards and alert your credit card company immediately if your card is lost or stolen. Also, bring a “backup” credit card and store it in your hotel safe in case of an emergency. Review all credit and debit card purchases and ATM withdrawals immediately when you return home; do not wait for your monthly statements.
3. Abstain from social media. Resist the urge to post your plans or pictures on a social media profile, like Facebook or Instagram. You could inadvertently give local thieves the go-ahead to break into your house. You can always brag about your trip after you return home.
4. Tell a trusted friend or relative about your travel plans. In fact, make copies of your itinerary, all the credit cards you'll be carrying, and your passport data page. Leave one copy with a friend and bring one copy with you to keep in your hotel safe. Also, be sure to tell your credit union or bank and your credit card companies about your plans, especially if you’re traveling outside the U.S. Your financial institution can take appropriate fraud suppression steps to make sure you have account access – but thieves do not.
5. Protect your cash. Treat your “walking-around” money like gambling money: only carry as much as you are comfortable losing. Split up your cash, putting some in a money belt and some in your shoe. Keep a few bills handy in case you are confronted by a robber. Handing over a small amount of “give up” money may prevent further financial loss and even injury.
6. Stop mail and newspaper delivery while you’re away. Ask the post office to hold your mail, or have a friend collect it for you. A full mailbox may tip off thieves that you are away from home, or give them access to bank statements and other sensitive information. Better yet, consider converting to paperless statements. In many ways, electronic statements are safer than paper, which can be lost or stolen. E-statements are harder for thieves to steal and easier for you to access when you want to look something up. Plus, think of all those trees you will save.
7. Wear sunscreen. In the long run, sunscreen is likely cheaper than whatever anti-aging creams, cosmetic procedures or medical treatment you may need later because of over-exposure to the sun. In the short-term, it can help you avoid the discomfort of sunburn, so you can fully enjoy your hard-earned vacation!