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Protect your identity (and your children’s) when you travel

When you’re ready to travel, the world is your oyster, especially with one of the best credit cards for travel. But travelers must protect their personal information and — especially — that of their children.

Even seemingly harmless activities, like posting to Snapchat or using an ATM, can expose someone to identity theft. So it’s important to keep a close eye on your family’s data.

In fact, a new law makes it free to check your child’s credit report. It’s a good reminder that everyone in your family can be at risk of having their identity stolen.

I’ll go through how your teen’s identity could be stolen while traveling, what you and they can do to prevent it from happening and what to do if you suspect their identity has been stolen.

How your teen’s identity can be stolen

As parents, many of us are mindful of protecting our own personal information when traveling. We’ve all heard the horror stories about how costly, time-consuming and stressful identity theft can be.

But even though our children might not yet be working or have any significant assets to their name, they are still very much a target for criminals and hackers. As parents, we should try to educate our teens in particular on the importance of protecting their personal information.

We’re much more susceptible to identity theft when we’re traveling. We might use foreign ATMs more often, connect to Wi-Fi networks we aren’t familiar with and carry a lot of our sensitive documents like passports, boarding passes and credit cards with us.

So when you take that susceptibility and throw in a teenager, it can be a very risky proposition. They can be targets for scams. They may not know to check for ATM skimmers, monitor their bank accounts for fraudulent activity or avoid posting certain types of photos on social media.

Here are a few things you and your teen can keep in mind to minimize the chances of having their identity stolen.

Use caution online

Smartphones and apps like Snapchat and Facebook are how teens usually connect with others, but they can accidentally give out information that a hacker could use to steal their identity.

I wouldn’t necessarily discourage them from using these apps on their travels, but they need to take some precautions.

Public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi is a treasure trove for hackers. Much of the information transmitted over the network is unsecured and easy to snatch. It’s a good idea to avoid public Wi-Fi at all costs, but if there is no other option, we should all at least avoid conducting any transactions that contain any personal information like a Social Security number, date of birth, credit card information or bank log-in credentials.

If you must conduct sensitive transactions, consider setting up a secure VPN as a safer way to protect information.

Location settings: Location services can be a great way to keep track of your kids because it shares your location with your friends and family. But if you can, turn off location settings, especially when you’re traveling. If location data gets into the wrong hands, criminals can use it to identify patterns of behavior that make it easier to launch targeted attacks.

When it comes to your security, the best rule of thumb is to remain anonymous.

Social media safety: Ah, social media. It can be very tempting for your teen to share the news and photos of their trip, especially if they’re flying to fantastic destinations thanks to miles and points from the best airline credit cards. I regularly see photos of my friends with pictures of their passports, boarding passes and hotels they’re staying at. A determined hacker can use that information to wreak havoc on a trip.

The best thing for your teen to do is to avoid posting photos until they return home. And if they decide to post photos, they should never post anything with their personal information.

The safest policy is to avoid posting anything with identifying numbers, such as order numbers or confirmation numbers. That’s because, in many instances, those numbers are one of just a few key pieces of information needed to claim someone else’s identity.

Photos of boarding pass: I frequently see people posting photos of their boarding passes on social media, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

In fact, posting a photo of your boarding pass could reveal enough information for a hacker to steal your identity. There are websites designed to read barcodes on boarding passes and those can be used to get your name, frequent flyer account numbers, booking numbers, seat numbers and possibly more. In many instances, that’s enough information for a hacker to change your travel itinerary.

Similarly, tell your teen to keep a close eye on their boarding pass when they receive a physical copy of it. If it gets lost and is picked up by someone, the barcode could once again be used to change their travel plans. And to avoid the possibility of losing their pass, opt for a mobile version of the pass if possible.

Imagine showing up at the airport only to find that you don’t have a spot on the flight you booked because someone called and changed your reservations. It’s happened.

Snapchat:  Teens tend to be far too trusting and they may let the whole world know where they are. But there’s no need for everyone to know where they’re staying when they’re abroad. Keeping your location private is the best way to make sure you’re not a target for hackers.

Snapchat’s Ghost Mode comes in handy for something like this because it allows you to make your location private so no one can track your movements.

Public computers: Having access to a public computer at a hotel business center can be a great convenience, but don’t conduct any sensitive transactions on it. You don’t own the computer and you have no idea what software could be silently running in the background. It could be infected with viruses, spyware, or key-logging software ready to capture your bank login details, Social Security number or other personal data.

Computer viruses are everywhere. One online report estimated that a new malware variant is released every 4.2 seconds.

Tell your teens to be safe. Stay away from public computers, but if they must use them, make sure they don’t enter any identifying information.

Keep valuables in a carry-on: If you or your teen will be taking a flight, you should keep valuables in your carry-on bags if possible. There’s no guarantee that your checked luggage will be handled with care and you don’t want to arrive at your destination to find your valuables damaged or lost or stolen.

Take your valuables with you onto the plane in your carry-on so that you can keep a close eye on it. Using a card that comes with travel protection benefits isn’t a bad idea, either.

Use bank ATMs:  If your teen will be traveling abroad, they’ll likely have to withdraw cash from an ATM at some point. Remind them to try to stick to ATMs in banks and avoid those in restaurants, bars, and supermarkets.

ATMs at banks are less likely to be tampered with. There’s a better chance that there’s video surveillance and regular security patrols, things that tend to deter would-be criminals from even attempting to install credit card skimmers on the machines.

ATMs located in restaurants and bars, on the other hand, are more likely to be targeted for hackers because they’re often not equipped with those deterrents.

Using caution in offline settings

Although teens may spend most of their time glued to their phones online, there are still plenty of opportunities for their identities to be stolen in person as well. Here are a few common scenarios to keep in mind.

Paying with a card at a restaurant: When we dine at a sit-down restaurant, most of us don’t give a second thought to handing our credit card to the waiter as they walk away to process our payment. But with the card out of sight, what else could they be doing without our knowledge?

I’ve heard plenty of stories where workers at the restaurant used machines to clone the credit card. But even without a machine, it’s easy enough to just take a picture of the credit card.

That’s why it’s a good suggestion for your teens to never let their credit card out of their sight.  They can walk up to the front (or wherever the restaurant processes the credit card payments) any time during or after their meal to pay. With the card in their sight at all times, it’s unlikely a worker would try to copy the credit card information.

Don’t provide information over the phone: My personal rule of thumb is to never give out information on an incoming phone call, even if it looks and sounds legitimate. Phone numbers can be “spoofed” to make it seem like a call from a legitimate company, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know who is at the other end of the line.

If you or your teen receives a call from a company requesting personal information, it’s best to hang up and call back using a phone number from the company’s website.

This way, you’ll know that you are speaking with a legitimate representative of the company.

What if your child’s identity is stolen?

Travel insurance can be helpful in mitigating the damage caused by identity theft. Depending on the insurance company you use, they may be able to help you to contact local law enforcement, file the appropriate forms and even contact your creditors to assist in getting new credit cards.

Consumer protection laws have also evolved over the years in response to the increase in identity theft and now allow consumers to more easily deal with cases of fraud. Freezing your child’s credit report for free for instance, could ease the pain of identity theft and can be effective in preventing thieves from opening additional credit cards and loans.

Each state has slightly different laws; they are summarized in the table below.


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