How to protect against fraud and identity theft when you travel

Identity fraud isn’t just something that happens in the movies, it’s a real criminal act that can victimize any Canadian. Between January 2014 and December 2016, Canadians lost an estimated $290 million to fraud.

Passports and personal ID cards are no longer the richest sources of personal information. Today, passwords, usernames, social media profiles, and cellphone data create unique opportunities for fraudsters. Criminals gain access to your identity, copy it, and use if for the purposes of getting credit, employment, or security clearance in your name. 

The more information a criminal can learn about you, the better chance they have of evading detection. Scoring your wallet is still high on a scammer’s list, but there are newer, more covert items to worry about in the age of information and techonlogy.

To protect yourself in general, you should set up fraud alerts at your financial institutions. Any time there is suspicious activity on an account, you will be notified. Having travel insurance in place before you depart is also one of the smartest things you can do if you’re travelling to an unfamiliar urban environment.

Be safe in the streets

Let’s talk about having your wallet either lost or stolen when you're out and about sightseeing. Your wallet likely contains your government ID, credit/debit cards, personal funds, and the like.

Here's how to avoid the worst case scenario, should you lose track of your wallet: separate your ID and your spending money. If you don’t need your ID with you 24/7, leave it in a safe place at the hotel.

Perhaps just carry a credit/debit card on you and cash in your pocket. If you do have your wallet lost or stolen, you’ll just need to cancel your cards and thus avoid the lengthy process of reporting your ID losses to their respective government centres.

Hotel safety tips

Hotel scams are always changing and adapting. You could be both scammed in the process of booking your room online or scammed once you’re in the hotel itself.

When you’re booking online, make sure it’s a reputable website affiliated with the hotel you're looking into. If you’re not sure, you can read reviews online (for the website, not the hotel) or speak directly with hotel management. Read the URL very carefully, everything could look legitimate except one misplaced letter or misspelled phrase.

Once you’re in your room, be mindful of where you put your important documents and personal belongings, including jewelry, cameras, ID, and itineraries.

Split everything up and make a note of where you placed them. If someone in a dark situation were to come across things like your health card, passport, extra money and charge card in the same place, it would be pretty hard to resist.

Card skimmers

When you’re in a foreign place, you're probably going to use cash machines to withdraw spending money at some point during the trip. Card skimmers can be installed by criminals who modify legitimate ATMs or point-of-sales systems that are housed in low-security areas, such as outside on the street or even inside at participating corner stores.

When you insert or swipe your card to pay for something or withdraw funds, your card gets “skimmed” of its data and gives the criminal access to your accounts. Even cards with the “tap” function can get skimmed too, because the criminal device only needs to be a foot away from your pocket or purse to steal your card's data.

There are also less sophisticated versions of ATM scams

For example, say you withdraw your money from an ATM and everything goes as planned. Once you get the prompt “Would you like to close this session?” you click the sticky “ENTER” key and leave on your way down the street.

Little did you know the "ENTER" key was sticky on purpose, and it prevented you from closing your session. The criminal waiting across the street runs up to the ATM and withdraws all they can while your session remains open.

Always check to see if important buttons are functioning correctly on ATMs, and better yet, stick to trusted cash sources like the ATMs located in bank buildings.

Protect your online and cell phone data

Computers and mobile devices store a lot of your personal information. Cyber-crimes happen when this virtual data gets stolen, copied, and used for fraudulent purposes. Your identity can be accessed and used in the same way as physical identification cards.

Everything from your internet history to logged passwords and usernames could be used against you in the event of fraudulent activity. Security experts suggest you routinely update and change passwords for email and banking sites. Also, enable two-factor authentication where available.

Protect your phone by elongating your password; the more digits in your password, the more power it takes to crack the code. Engage the remote control feature for your phone before you fly, so you can locate it on another device if it is lost or stolen.

Some online tips:

  • Never access sensitive online information (such as banking) from a public computer or random internet café
  • Back up data daily
  • Seriously avoid using open WiFi connections to make any purchases. Only access WiFi networks that require a password and login. Your data is up for grabs if a hacker is waiting on the same network.
  • Make passwords longer than the required four digits

"Fraud abroad" rhymes for a reason.