Protect personal information while on vacation

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Inviting an identity thief along on your summer vacation may sound absurd, but that's essentially what many people do by ignoring simple steps to protect their personal information.

Travelers are great targets for an ID thief basically because they've let their guard down, according to Peter Schoenrock, senior vice president of product management at the credit reporting bureau Equifax, based in Atlanta.

"You're in the middle of town taking pictures, going to tourist attractions. Maybe you're carrying a backpack. Those are prime spots for pickpockets," for example, he said.

"You're distracted. You're in that [carefree] vacation mindset. You're out of your element."

With the peak travel season approaching, Equifax has put together tips for battling ID thieves while on the road:

Place a hold on your mail. An overflowing mailbox can attract thieves looking for an easy way to steal personal information.

Don't announce travel plans on social media. The information invites ID thieves to target your house while you're away.

Clean out your wallet. Do you really need six credit cards and your library card on vacation? "If you lose your wallet, it's just more that you have to deal with," Mr. Schoenrock said.

Leave your laptop at home. If you must bring it, update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. And don't access bank accounts while in a hotel room, coffee shop or other public Wi-Fi location. "Bad actors can log into the same network and, at times, see the transmissions," Mr. Schoenrock said.

Freeze your credit with the three national credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A freeze blocks access to credit reports that lenders use to grant credit, which should prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your name.

Rules vary by state, but in Pennsylvania, credit bureaus can charge a processing fee of up to $10 for a security freeze. There's no charge to remove it. (People 65 and older and victims of ID theft can obtain a freeze for free. ID theft victims also can temporarily lift the freeze for a specific party or period of time at no charge.)

Set up a travel alert on your credit card accounts. Call the 800 number to notify the card issuer where and when you'll be traveling, especially if you're going abroad. (If you don't, the fraud department could mistakenly flag your account and deny your transactions.)

While staying at a hotel, lock important documents such as your passport in a safe.

Protect your smartphone. Create a password for access in case it is lost or stolen. Use an application with a GPS locator to find it.

Use ATMs located at banks. Unbranded machines may be less secure and the fees often are higher.

Don't put your full name and address on luggage tags. The idea is to limit personal information that could fall into the wrong hands. Your last name and phone number are enough information to contact you if your suitcase is lost.

Tear up and discard used boarding passes, which often contain personal information.

To learn more about identity theft, ways to prevent it and what to do if you become a victim, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

travel - businessnews - yourbiz

Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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