How to Protect Your Identity When You Travel Abroad
April 23, 2018
By Jennifer Johnson
Sioux Falls Branch Manager
Vacations are for meant for making memories — not worrisome phone calls!
However, a recent survey commissioned by Experian found nearly 39 percent of travelers have experienced identity theft while traveling, or know someone who has.
I just got back from an amazing trip to Akumal, Mexico, and although I didn’t have any problems (unless minor sunburn counts), it got me thinking: when you’re traveling internationally, it’s extremely important to protect your personal information, especially during a time — vacation — when most of us are prone to letting our guard down! And to protect yourself, you’ll need more than sunscreen.
Here is a checklist of measures for you to guard against fraud and identity theft while traveling abroad:
1. Make Official Copies of All Important Documents
Make photocopies (or take high-quality pictures) of all the official documents you plan to bring on the trip — including your passport, driver’s license and any rental car paperwork. If any documents are lost or stolen, you’ll need multiple forms of identification in order to get new one from the U.S. embassy or consulate. So keep your copies in a safe, separate place — either with someone at home who you trust, or digitally scanned onto a cloud drive (if you’re tech savvy).
2. Put Travel Alerts On Your Cards
Call your bank and credit card company and have them put travel alerts on your cards. In particular, let them know where you will be going and the dates you’ll be there. Financial companies are becoming much more diligent about tracking unusual activity on your card.
Also, only travel with the card(s) you’ll actually use — preferably, EMV Chip-protected cards to protect against skimming — and leave the rest locked up at home. Finally, have your debit card and credit card emergency phone numbers written down in a separate place, in case you must report the cards as lost or stolen.
Me, Jennifer (pictured right), with my Mom bicycling to the ruins in Cabo, Mexico.
3. Order Foreign Currency From Your Bank
You might want to bring local currency for giving tips and buying little things like food, drinks and souvenirs from local shops. Recently, my sister and I bought handmade wooden turtles from a Mayan family in a remote area of Mexico — but the family only accepted pesos!
For these instances, at Security National Bank of South Dakota we provide a foreign currency exchange service. We recommend you order foreign currency two weeks prior to your trip, to avoid exchanging money at your destination airport (the fees may be higher there, and exchange rages might not be accurate). Contact us for more information.
In addition, make sure you know the exchange rate for the country you’re visiting. I used an ATM in Mexico and withdrew 500 pesos, thinking that would be adequate — until I realized that amounted to about $26 in American currency!
4. Stay in Places With Access to a Personal Safe
Wherever you plan on staying, ask the hotel, resort or homeowners if there is a safe in your room or house. Use it to store your passport, immigration papers, jewelry and extra money. Every morning when you leave, only take the necessary items and amounts that you’ll use that day.
5. Beware of Travel Alerts
Be aware of your surroundings and the current events affecting the area you plan on visiting.
While we were in Mexico, we encountered a peaceful protest in the town we were visiting. If we had known about it ahead of time, we might have avoided the area that day. There are many other, more dangerous instances where traveling requires caution. Refer to the State Department’s list of travel advisories throughout the world to keep yourself updated.
6. Pay Your Bills and Put a Hold on Mail Deliveries
No matter how much you trust your neighbor, it’s best to have your mail held at the post office until you return. Also, make sure your bills are paid before you leave — because one of the worst things you can possibly do is try and transfer money and private information using public Wi-Fi.
If a bill must be paid while you are away, contact your financial institution or consider signing up for an online bill pay option.
7. Put a Pause on the Social Media Posts.
You might be tempted to post a slew of vacation selfies of you soaking up some rays, sipping on that margarita and generally reminding everyone back home of what they’re missing. But if you do, you might as well be slapping a huge sign on your front door that says “Out of Town!” Save the social media for when you return.
8. Be Vigilant Upon Your Return.
Many identity thieves are perfectly content to be patient now and strike later when you least suspect it. That’s why it’s important to always check your financial accounts regularly (regardless of whether or not you’ve been traveling). Luckily, Security National Bank of South Dakota makes this easy with Online Banking and our SNBSD Mobile App.