Keeping Your Identity Safe While Traveling
I recently got a surprise phone call from a group of guys that called to inform me that my Debit Card had been hacked. Not only that it had been hacked, but it had been hacked by them! Shock and disgust came over me as I called my bank to inform them that my credit card and personal information had been compromised. How did they get it? What else did they have access to? All of these questions ran through my mind quickly. As I sat on hold with my bank, I saw transactions being posted to my account every minute. Finally, my bank associate cancelled my debit card, just shy of the 3rd purchase. Fortunately the hackers only got an average of $20. My bank has since credited my funds and reissued a new card.
One main question still remains, what did I do to expose my banking information? Was it the purchase that I made a month before, a week before, or a day before? Was it an online purchase or a purchase at a gas pump? Well there are so many possibilities in this day and age, with online and mobile payment options increasing and the possibility of hackers to access major company information becoming increasingly possible.
I set out to find ways to answer some of the questions that I had about my financial situation. I was now a part of the millions of people that had been a victim of a cyber crime. Some of the important options that I learned about included placing Credit Freezes and/or Fraud alerts on credit reports, utilizing credit protection programs, reporting the fraudulent activity to the authorities, and obtaining alternate forms of payment for online purchases. Some of the aforementioned options require a form of payment, but can be a great tool in your arsenal of credit and identity protection.
Here are a few suggestions for keeping your identity as safe as possible while traveling this summer:
1. Download the Credit Karma app for your Android device. The Credit Karma app is a fantastic way to easily, safely, and frequently access your credit information for free! The app allows you to look at your credit report, positive payment options, credit history, credit inquiries, and more! The Credit Karma website is also accessible on other devices. Checking your credit information on the go is a great and convenient option for staying on top of what's going on while you are away.
2. Use secure web pages. Make sure to look for the lock as well as the 'S' in HTTPS in the search bar at the top of a webpage when doing transactions online. A lot of hackers have been able to redirect websites and have you to insert your precious information into their fraudulent website for easy picking. Also, be mindful of any viruses on your devices and computers. These are known as major ways for hackers to access your information while on the internet. I, interestingly enough, also had a virus on my Safari browser a day before my debit card information was stolen. This could possibly be a factor in my ordeal as well. I had to buy software to remove this virus from my computer before being able to use it again. Here is a video review if the software that I used: Safari Browser Virus Remover App.
3. Avoid using unsecured internet connections. Make sure that you use secure internet while on the go. It is so easy to hop onto "Free Wifi" while waiting for coffee at an internet cafe or staying online all evening while visiting in a hotel. One of the better options is to use your own personal hotspot. It is worth the investment for you and your family during travel season.
4. Use prepaid debit cards for purchases on the go. Gas station gas pumps are notorious for having skimmers attached to them. My advice is to use a prepaid card or better yet, cash to pay for gas. If you have to use your personal debit card, then go inside to pay or use a pump that is closest to the cashier's window. That way they have a less likely chance of being tampered with. For online purchases, using a debit card is certainly a better option to avoid your personal information and account from being hacked.
5. Use a credit card instead of a debit card. For the most part, most banks credit any missing debit card money within a few days, but who wants the headache of waiting for the process to take place while on vacation? Credit cards on the other hand is not your "personal money" so to speak, so the fortune of not having the burden of your personal funds wiped out is a better option. Yet still a headache if accessed, credit card funds are insured and can be provided back to you with minimal hassle. Mainly using a credit card for hotel and car reservations might allow you to keep up with your transactions a lot easier.
There are so many ways to be safer while traveling this summer or during any family vacation time. Keeping an eye on your finances by monitoring your purchases, paying more securely, and adding identity and credit protection can serve as a first line of defense against being a victim of fraud. Although nothing is perfect, being more proactive can lead to less headache and more fun while traveling!