Guest post by Becky Frost
Summer vacation is here and travel season is in high gear! In today’s hi-tech world, getting away from it all doesn’t have the same meaning as it has had in the past. Families may want to get out of town for rest and relaxation, but those plans don’t always include leaving smartphones, tablets and laptops at home. For many, the want and need to text, check email, and update social media accounts remains just as strong while on vacation, but there could be a high price to pay if you don’t take the right precautions. Unfortunately, if you need to rely on unsecure public Wi-Fi while on the road, the risk of having your identity stolen can rise dramatically.
Identity theft is a serious crime that can affect anyone at any age. It only takes one important piece of information like a Social Security card, a driver’s license or a bank account statement for identity theft to happen. Even worse, it’s not uncommon for victims to not realize their identity has been stolen for weeks, months or years after the fact, allowing the crime to perpetuate and destroy your credit.
To help protect your family’s identity while on vacation and beyond, Experian’s ProtectMyID®, suggests implementing the following tips to avoid your identity falling into the wrong hands:
• Make the Wi-Fi Hotspot Your Own: Avoid using public Wi-Fi spots, the place in cyberspace where identity thieves often lurk. Purchasing a portable router allows you to create your own Wi-Fi hotspot wherever you are. A local SIM data card will be needed, which is available at most electronic stores and also can often be found at airport kiosks.
• Think Twice: Be very cautious of using unsecured networks when using Public Wi-Fi., More than two-thirds of online adults use a free or unsecured Wi-Fi network giving hackers free access to the networks according to a 2012 Norton Cybercrime report.
If you aren’t sure you’re logging into a secured or private network in this setting, make sure you do not visit sites that contain sensitive information, like bank account.
• Wisely Share Information Online: It’s tempting to want to update your friends with posts and photos about your getaway but realize in the process you’re letting the world know that you’re home is vacant. The best option is to delay posts until you are back home. If you just can’t wait, be sure your privacy settings are set to “friends” only to help limit access to the information to those you want to view it.
• Make Sure it’s Above Board: Make sure URLs you are checking out from your mobile device are legit. Since mobile browsers don’t show the URL, it’s suggested that you bookmark your favorites sites after you type in the address to avoid falling prey to URL spoof sites criminals have created in order to steal your information.
• Guard your Social Networks. When it comes to a blog or social accounts (Facebook, Twitter,etc.), make sure you use the highest security settings possible to ensure your information, posts and photos aren’t being leaked onto the Internet.
• Make Passwords Hard to Crack. Take time to create unique passwords others can’t easily identify. Using a mix of upper and lowercase letters, symbols, numbers, and punctuation is one of your best defenses against others figuring out how to access your online accounts.
• Mobile Devices Need Protecting Too: It’s not just your computer that needs protecting. Be sure to arm your mobile devices with strong passwords and encryption too. You can further protect your phone, tablet or laptop by installing wiping software so that your information can be removed remotely if the device is lost or stolen.
• Scrutinize ATM Locations: Only seek out ATMs in secure locations when cash is needed. Fake ATMS have been known to be set up in areas where tourists frequent. Whenever possible, stick to using ATMs that are attached to a bank branch and take care to shield your pin entry from those passing by.
Implementing these tips while on vacation is advised but the reality is that it’s important to use them in your everyday life. Electronic devices have made our online activities more mobile than ever before, whether were 5 miles from home at a shopping mall or 500 miles away at a hotel. Technology has enriched our lives in amazing ways but understanding and mitigating the risks associated with it is key to keeping your family’s identity private and safe.
Becky Frost is Senior Manager of Consumer Education for Experian’s ProtectMyID.