Ahh, vacation. You wait all year, or maybe several years, to take a hard-earned trip. Once you do, you want to be able to relax. No matter where, or why, your travels take you away from home, the last thing you should have to worry about is your credit being compromised while you’re gone.
But thieves and credit scams are becoming increasingly prevalent, and travelers unknowingly open themselves up to risk all the time. Here are some things you may not have considered that are important to do when it comes to protecting your credit — and your identity — the next time you hit the road.
Take just what you need
This rule doesn’t only apply to your suitcase when traveling. It should also apply to your wallet. You don’t need to bring all of your credit cards with you, and doing so opens you up to additional theft or loss potential. Try to pick one or two cards you’ll use on your trip and and bring only those. When you’re out and about for the day or night, bring just one card along and leave the other behind in a secure place in your hotel.
Always choose credit
It’s always safer to use credit than debit. The fewer places you’re entering your debit card PIN number, the better. Besides the fact that entering a PIN number can put you at risk from onlookers or unsecure checkout systems, using debit cards doesn’t afford you the same protections as credit cards. The majority of credit cards offer protections against fraudulent purchases. However, if fraudulent purchases are made on a debit card, your account is at risk until you can get the situation resolved.
Keep an eye on your cards
Wherever you are, don’t leave your credit card unattended. That means being diligent about not leaving wallets unattended in a coat pocket or a purse that’s hung over a chair, etc. Savvy thieves can use a credit card skimmer in seconds to obtain your card information and commit fraud.
Don’t take a vacation from monitoring card activity
Just because you’re on vacation, don’t stop being diligent in regularly monitoring your account activity while you’re away. This way you stand the best chance of catching any suspicious activity right away. Remember to use good judgement in doing so. If you’re logging into your accounts via hotel Wi-Fi, make sure it’s secure, and always log out of your accounts on whatever device you’re using. You can also call your credit card company for a list of recent charges to avoid going online.
Sign up for text alerts
Many credit and debit cards offer text alert options to alert you each time a charge is made, or to alert you of suspicious activity. It might be a good idea to activate this option as an extra layer of safety before you travel.
Consider lowering your daily cash withdrawal limits
If you’re bringing along a card that has a high daily cash-out limit, consider lowering it. That way, if your card is compromised or stolen while you’re traveling, you will have some control over the amount of cash a thief can drain from your account.
Read your receipts
This is a good idea whether you’re traveling or just using your card at home. Never sign a receipt before reviewing the charges. Once a receipt bears your signature it can be difficult to dispute those charges.
Write down important information
It’s always a good idea to have a plan in place for the worst-case scenario. Writing down the phone numbers and account numbers of your credit cards is a good idea in the event your cards or phone are stolen. Keep the written information in a safe place, such as a deposit box in your room, so that you can still contact your card companies and/or bank to alert them if an issue arises.
Be alert when taking cash from an ATM
Whenever you hit the ATM on your journey, keep your eyes open. Pick an ATM in a safe, public location and take note of anyone suspicious around you before you make a withdrawal.
Don’t be afraid to ask about security
Wherever you’re staying, be it in a hotel or an Air B & B, ask the owner or manager how secure their Wi-Fi and checkout systems are before using them. If they cannot guarantee a secure system, don’t take any chances.
Remember that cash is king
If you’re uncomfortable with the security of an establishment’s payment or checkout systems, using cash is always an option. While it’s not a good idea to carry large amounts of cash, paying for meal or outing in cash is a surefire way to safeguard your information and protect your credit from potential identity theft and damage.
Unpack your wallet
Many of us keep very important information in our wallets on a daily basis, including social security cards and insurance cards. Consider leaving any card or item at home that is non-essential to your travels. An insurance card, for example, often contains enough identifying information to put you at risk if it falls into the wrong hands.
Create a dedicated email address
When you’re planning and booking travel there is a lot of personal information exchanged. Consider creating a dedicated email that no one else knows about or has access to. If someone were to get access to an email account, with all of this information, the potential for damage to your credit could be very high.
Safeguard your cell phone
Cell phones are arguably our most personal possession when it comes to our financial and identifying information. We all use apps for all manner of things, from banking to socializing. If you’re logged into all of your apps on your phone, that information is right at the fingertips of anyone that gets their hands on it. Make sure you have password protection or user ID touch set up to get into your phone, and consider logging out of all of your apps.
Stay off social media
Posting your whereabouts and advertising the fact that you’re away from home may open you up to considerable risk. Consider what could happen if someone (who you may even trust) were to gain access to your home, office, or any other location where you keep personal information. Not only can property theft occur, but identity theft as well — it can take years for your credit to recover. Resist the urge to post that status update or photo, and save your social sharing for when you’re back at home.
If you’re concerned about your credit after traveling, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated every 14 days.