Identity theft prevention strategies

While vacation can be the perfect antidote for relaxation from the daily grind, many people leave themselves vulnerable to identity theft, which could lead to serious financial problems for individuals who are victimized.

Ken Hall, senior vice president for M&I*, said vacationers are frequently targeted by identity thieves.

“Identity theft can happen at any time but can be more likely while traveling because you’re carrying a lot of sensitive information in a distracting and unfamiliar environment,” said Hall.

As the group defines it, identity theft is just like it sounds—an act wherein someone steals someone’s personal information, oftentimes their Social Security number, and then uses it to open a variety of accounts in the victim’s name. While the financial impact may not be immediate, it can lead to lasting repercussions on a person’s financial health, often taking years restore one’s credit history.

However, Hall says that vacationers can prevent identity theft from becoming an issue by taking some precautions prior to embarking on their trip.

Be cautious with Social Security number

One way is to make sure as few personal documents as possible contain Social Security identification. For instance, Social Security cards should be left at home and anyone who asks for the number should be questioned why they need it.

While leaving several personal documents in one’s hotel room is better than carrying them around everywhere, this may not be sufficient. Hall says that statements, checks and legal papers should be placed in a discrete or protected location, as many hotels rooms have a safe deposit box. In short, carry the smallest amount of identifying information as possible, such as a passport, driver’s license and one credit card.

Use ATM in discrete manner

Hall also advises being cautious when entering information into an ATM. For instance, instead of punching in a pin number out in the open, it is best to cover the keypad so that no one can see what numbers are being pushed.

Some financial experts recommend carrying cash in place of credit and debit cards. However, cash can be stolen if handled improperly. Hall recommends buying a security money belt, travel purse or a money clip to help thwart pickpockets.

Refrain from leaving personal documents in checked luggage

Some may think it is better to keep their personal information in their luggage that is checked at the airport. However, Hall says this is a bad idea, as this type of documentation will generally need to be shown on multiple occasions. In addition, there is a chance it could be tampered with because the baggage is not physically in their possession.

*according to M&I on March 6, 2012
via Peter Montanez

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