Best to keep your wallet light when you’re traveling, just in case. (Photo: Thinkstock)
By Claudine Zap
Audrey Scott was going through security at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in March when it happened. The money belt her husband had placed in the X-ray machine came back with cash missing.
For the co-founder of the website Uncornered Market and a seasoned traveler, the theft came as a shock. After she wrote about the incident on her blog, she quickly realized it’s a common occurrence.
“We got a lot of comments and emails from other people who had been robbed in a similar situation: by airport security staff as their items were going through the X-ray machine,” Scott told Yahoo Travel.
“Lesson learned,” she said. Now when she heads to the airport, she puts her valuables “away in a locked compartment or deep down in your bag so it’s hard to find.”
Vacations are a great time for rest, relaxation—and some serious scams. We don’t suggest you spend your trip holed up in your hotel, but a little vigilance goes a long way.
We spoke with experts who provided tips to help you plan—and take—a worry-free getaway.
Don’t be a tourist target. Keep in mind that criminals prey on out-of-towners. “It’s an issue when you’re traveling, because thieves are industrious,” Becky Frost, consumer education manager for Experian’s ProtectMyID, told Yahoo Travel.
“It creates another avenue for them to get your information. You may not be on your guard when you’re on vacation. Thieves know that, and they bank on that.”
Be aware of Web scams. Fraud experts have noted a rise of hijacked websites that look the same as the real ones. And a similar ruse: vacation rentals listed on places such as Craigslist that cheat you out of a deposit after promising a great—but fake—deal.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true,” Rip Mason, the CEO of LegalShield, a legal services and identity theft protection provider, told Yahoo Travel.
Stay off social media. It’s a natural impulse to want to announce to the world that you’re off to some cool, far-off land. But that’s exactly what the bad guys want you to do, Mason noted.
Travelers are basically rolling out the welcome mat to their empty home. “We strongly urge people not to preview in social media that they’re traveling or even post photos while they’re traveling,” he said.
Safeguard your house. Arrange for mail to be held at the post office, the newspaper delivery to be suspended, and a neighbor to keep your doorstep clear of leaflets—evidence that nobody’s home.
Secure your tech. If you haven’t yet, add a password to the phone, tablet, or other electronic device you plan to bring with you. It’s also good to delete sensitive information such as passwords.
There are “find my phone” apps that add GPS to your mobile device should it be swiped. But don’t pull a James Bond and try to get your phone back, Mason advised. Report the theft to the authorities and hope for the best.
Pack light, at least when it comes to your wallet. If you’re traveling in the U.S., you don’t need your passport, Frost pointed out. Ditto a social security card—for you or your kids. Limit the number of credit cards you carry, too. Another tip from Frost: Make copies of your card information and driver’s license in case your wallet is stolen.
Be on guard for hotel scams. If someone calls your room claiming to be a hotel worker and asks to confirm your credit card number, “That should set off alarms,” Mason said.
Hotels won’t even let you check in without a credit card, he noted. Instead, go to the lobby and talk to an employee face to face to make sure the person on the phone wasn’t an imposter.
Another recent trend: fliers slipped under the door of hotel rooms with a tempting restaurant deal. All you need to do: Call and—you guessed it—give out your credit card number. Don’t do it; it’s a scam, Mason added.
Watch out for Wi-Fi. Public hot spots are convenient, especially for criminals who can easily access the information on your device when you’ve logged on, according to Mason. A safer bet: password-protected areas.
Keep tabs on your cab. Hailing a taxi in parts unknown comes with risks, Max Rayner, partner at Hudson Crossing, a travel industry analyst group, told Yahoo Travel.
The scheme: “Cabs that take you to the hinterlands and then demand money before bringing you back on the grounds they ‘misunderstood’ the address you gave,” Rayner said.
He recommended the mobile phone app Uber for rides as “safer,” because the company “tracks driver ratings and kicks out bad actors,” he added.
Don’t use just any ATM. That cash machine in a bar frequented by tourists? It might not be legit, Frost said. She suggested taking out cash only from a bank or other reputable place. That way, you can avoid random ATMs that might be programmed to store your credit card data, then use it later for identity theft.
Check your bank balance. Both on your trip and once you’re home, keep an eye out for suspicious charges. If you notice anything off, point it out right away. You may also want to put a fraud alert on your credit report.
“The number one thing is to be aware of your situation,” Frost said. “Even if you’re on vacation. In a crowd, on a plane. Be aware there are risks everywhere. That will help you make decisions that will protect yourself.”
Claudine Zap is a writer for Yahoo. She got her start at the company tracking web trends. Since then, highlights have included blogging the royal wedding of Kate and William, covering the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and reporting on any and all red carpet events. With family in New York City but settled in San Francisco, Claudine considers herself happily bi-coastal.