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5 Ways Your Identity Can be Stolen When You Travel (and How to Avoid It)

Regardless of how crafty hackers have become, it’s easy enough to stop yourself from becoming a target. Take the time to protect yourself the next time you travel with these suggestions.

Traveling abroad is now easier than it has ever been, and many are beginning to take advantage of cheaper airfares, more broadly-accepted travel cards, and lower interest rates. But it’s a double edged-sword. As people make plans to travel the world, they often get caught up in the excitement and fail to protect themselves from online identity theft—a problem which is on the rise.

The situation is reaching epidemic proportions. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 16.6 million people fell victim to identity theft in 2012 alone. So it seems the days of saying, “It’ll never happen to me” are over.

Here’s what you need to know about the ways travelers are being targeted, and what tech solutions are available to combat the threat. 

1. Insecure Public WiFi Networks
Whenever you access the internet on the move—at a café, airport, park, library, or shopping mall—you’re putting yourself and your information at risk. Hackers have become adept at stealing personal data, and there’s a lot they can do with it when they’re given half a chance.

Solution: Protecting your information from malicious intent is as simple as getting yourself set up on The Onion Router (TOR), a secure network that encrypts all internet traffic to and from your device, making it unreadable by others.

2. Networked Accounts with the Same Password
If you’ve been using the same password since you got your first Gmail account, stop. Your email address works like an identification number, and all a hacker needs is the 6-8 letter combination to unlock every social media site or online service you’ve ever signed up to.

How do you remember your different passwords, though? Sending a password list to the cloud for safe-keeping is not the best of ideas, despite how convenient it might sound. It just makes things too easy for someone to find, and if they do, you won’t be in a position to just drop everything and deal with it efficiently.

Solution: Fortunately, there are some very effective password keeper services you can use while traveling. They’ll track your online activities and keep everything under one account so you don’t have to worry about mixing things up.

3. Unwanted Cell Phone Transmissions
Cell phones are in every modern explorer’s purse or pocket, but what you probably don’t know is that hackers are able to use their own to transmit data over radio frequencies and obtain your information. What’s disconcerting is that USB-installed malware, such as AirHopper, is able to get the job done very efficiently. For instance, a hacker may be able to install keylogging software in the blink of an eye to quietly record your passwords as you type. If your computer or phone does become compromised without your knowledge, any hacker with a WiFi connection within 23-feet radius will be in a perfect position to ruin your day. The stolen data is then rerouted to FM frequency-receiving smartphones via SMS. This can happen to anyone and from almost anywhere—especially to tourists waiting for their connecting flights. The best defense is to take preventative measures.

Solution: Investing in metal cases or pouches that shield your phone can provide you with some peace of mind. They act as a barrier and block all RF frequencies to effectively protect you from what—or rather, who—you can’t see.

4. RFID Scanning and Skimming
This is a practice that takes advantage of embedded passive and active RFID chips used in credit cards, passports and other important documents. While this technology is usually encrypted, hackers are able to implement sophisticated workarounds to access private data. Credit cards that aren’t protected may be re-writable—and the scary thing is that RFID scanning technology can be created for as little as $20. These devices are built to hunt down insecure frequencies, provide the hacker with administrator privileges, and relay your information.

Solution: Like cell phone shielding pouches, credit card protectors block RF frequencies and make a perfect replacement for the conventional travel wallet. However, if you’d like something a little more inconspicuous, there are some hi-tech jeans that do the same thing.

5. Inadequate Hotel Security Screening Policies

Identity theft doesn’t just occur online—it’s just that it’s more prevalent nowadays because of increased access to sophisticated technological tools. However, hotels and other lodgings are busy places where a perpetrator wouldn’t be noticed. If the hotel’s security isn’t up to standard or there’s a lapse, there’s a chance that someone could access your room and actually take your belongings. It’s unfortunate when it happens, but it does—and with more frequency that you might like to believe. 

Solution: If this happens to you, a GPS tracking device could come in handy. Thieves are aware of what these devices look like, so they’re more of a deterrent than anything. But if your laptop or iPad is stolen, you’ll be able to track its whereabouts.