Bill O’Boyle: AAA urges travelers to protect against identity theft

Aug. 6—The last thing anybody wants is to lose their identity.

Worse, would be to have one's identity stolen.

Yet, it happens every day — time and again. These criminals are out there lurking everywhere online, on the phone, at your front door.

Identity theft is very real, and it has devastating effects on victims.

Given this season of record-breaking travel, AAA is reminding anyone making plans to get away to take every precaution against identity theft — including the protection of personal documents and credit cards that are at increased risk of being lost or stolen.

"Identity theft and related losses have been on the rise in recent years," said Jana Tidwell, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Travelers must be vigilant about taking precautions before, during, and after their trips."

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2021:

—Fraud complaints increased almost 20% from the prior year to almost 6 million.

—ID theft, the most common fraud, made up about 24% of those complaints.

—Financial losses from fraud rose almost 80% from the previous year.

—The majority of identity theft reports came from Millennials and Gen Xers.

So how do you safeguard your identity?

Here are 10 tips from AAA for minimizing the risk of identity theft:

Before you travel:

—Clean out your wallet or purse. Only carry what you absolutely need for the trip, such as your driver's license, passport and the credit or debit cards you'll be using.

—Contact your bank and credit card providers. Let them know you'll be traveling to alert them of unusual charges, and they won't decline your card due to suspected fraudulent activity.

—Enable two-factor authentication on accounts when given the option to do so. This provides an extra layer of security.

—Make copies of your driver's license, passport and debit/credit cards. Leave with a trusted friend or family member for easy retrieval should the originals be lost or stolen.

—Sign up for identity theft protection. This type of service will monitor your personal information activity and financial accounts and alert you if it detects problems.

During travel:

—Don't put anything of value in checked luggage. Keep the most sensitive documents in a bag tucked under the seat in front of you on a plane, rather than in anything that goes in the overhead bin — and out of your sight.

—Lock up important documents. Unless you need them, keep your passport and other documents locked in your hotel safe.

—Don't use public Wi-Fi. Doing so leaves users susceptible to hackers intercepting personal information or implanting malware on a targeted computer or device.

—Make sure any websites you visit — at home or abroad — begin with https and not just http. The 's' stands for secure.

—Avoid ATMs in remote locations. These devices may have skimmers attached or cameras watching your withdrawal. While it can be impossible to avoid ATM machines on vacation, especially if you're on a long trip, use them sparingly and try to only use machines connected to a major bank.

—Upon your return, closely monitor your bank account, review all credit card transactions and immediately report any suspicious activity.

More from AAA

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crime. Information including your date of birth, name, driver's license, or Social Security number can be used to steal your identity.

What are warning signs of identity theft?

Some warning signs include household bills not being delivered, credit or loan applications being denied, receiving statements for purchases you didn't make, fraudulent transactions appearing on your accounts, your tax return being declined, and small charges appearing on your credit card statements.

How do I minimize the risk of ID theft?

To minimize your risk of identity theft, don't share your personal information, create strong passwords and use two-factor authentication, only sign on to secure Wi-Fi sites, update your social media settings to "private", set up credit card and financial alerts, track your credit score, and avoid using debit cards while shopping online.

What should I do if my identity is stolen?

If you become the victim of identity theft, place a fraud alert on your credit reports, freeze your credit, review your credit reports, contact the Federal Trade Commission, make a list of all stolen items and keep records, contact your creditors and key agencies, and change your accounts passwords.

As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) always said during morning roll call in "Hill Street Blues": "Let's be careful out there."

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.