How to Protect Your Identity Before You Leave on Vacation

Your summer vacation is approaching quickly! You can’t wait to take time away from your responsibilities, jump out of your daily routine, and splash into a new adventure. You may be taking time off, but you can be sure cybercriminals won’t take a break. While traveling, you may encounter scams, theft, and identity theft that put your personal information, devices, and online privacy in jeopardy. 

McAfee’s Safer Summer Holidays Travel Report surveyed 7,000 people across seven countries to discover how safe it is to plan and book travel online, and how cautious people are when interacting with digital tools while traveling abroad. The infographic below details the key insights. 

The research reveals 30% of adults have fallen victim or know someone who has fallen victim to an online scam while trying to save money when booking travel. 34% of those who had money stolen have lost over $1,000 before their trip has even begun, while 66% lost up to $1,000.  

62% of all vacationers will travel domestically this year and 42% will do so internationally. With inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, the research reveals new concerns for leisure-seekers who, in their quest for a good deal, may be more likely to fall for a scam. With 94% of people booking travel online this year, it can be easy to get lured into a deal that’s too good to be true. In today’s economic environment, adults are more likely to seek out a bargain deal online (56%), move quickly to snap up a deal (45%), try a new booking site (35%) and even a new destination (36%), in order to save money. However, travel seekers need to stay vigilant to avoid falling for a scam.  

Travel scams can take many forms, with the research finding 14% of all adults have been tricked into making payments through fraudulent platforms and 18% have had their identity stolen when booking online. Of this portion, 7% entered passport information and 11% provided other personally identifiable information to a fake website. 

Discrepancies Between Consumers’ Sentiments and Behaviors 

The research also uncovered a discrepancy between people’s sentiments and behaviors, as well as online safety best practices when travelling. In total, 61% of people are more concerned about digital threats than physical ones, such as being pickpocketed, and 85% of adults hold either some or high concern around their identity being compromised as part of their travel. Despite this, 48% admitted to being less security conscious when on holiday. Whether it’s connecting to Wi-Fi networks even though they look a bit suspicious (22%), using a free USB charging port at an airport or train station (26%), or leaving their Netflix account logged in after checking out of their accommodation (17%), significant numbers of people have engaged in activities that could put them at increased risk of crime while traveling.    

It’s not that people are unaware of the dangers either. While 44% of people think their personal information is less secure when they connect to the internet while on vacation, less than half (43%) make use of any services to monitor the safety of their online identity, and 50% don’t use a VPN while on vacation. Of those that do, 20% only do so because they want to stream geo-specific content. 

Knowing the risks doesn’t stop travelers from engaging in the behavior. While social media is by far the most common online activity for people to use their phones for while on vacation (60%), also common are chatting with friends and family (55%), online banking (35%) and sending money via apps such as PayPal or Venmo (22%).  

“People are often more relaxed and carefree when away from home, but it’s never been more important to remain vigilant when traveling,” says Cagla Ruacan, McAfee’s Head of Product Strategy and Insights. “From the moment you open your laptop to book a vacation, to when you log into airport Wi-Fi while waiting for the flight home, staying alert and taking precautions helps keep yourself and your loved ones safe from online travel scams. Taking early and proactive steps to manage your security, privacy and online identity means you’ll be able to more safely and confidently enjoy your well-earned vacation.” 

How to Protect Yourself from Online Summer Travel Scams 

1. Level Up Your Device Security

When you lose your mobile phone, you’re not just losing an expensive gadget. You’re also losing control of all the valuable personally identifiable information (PII) stored on it. Be especially aware of your surroundings when you’re on vacation. Pickpockets like to congregate in tourist hotspots, at home and abroad. They take advantage of distracted out-of-towners or awestruck sightseers who are less aware of suspicious behavior. 

Before you leave, familiarize yourself with common pickpocketing schemes. For example, if a stranger on the street asks you the time, avoid eye contact and keep walking. In this scam, the stranger will comment on your watch or try to strike up a conversation while their partner scopes out your back pockets. It seems impolite to ignore someone, but if they truly need to know the time, they can ask someone else. Also, how many people are there who don’t have a time-telling device on them? 

When walking around a city or taking public transportation, keep your phone in your front pockets or in a zippered bag that you can hold around your front. Consider buying a phone tether or lanyard for your phone. This will make your phone much more difficult to lift since it’s securely wrapped around your body. 

2. Proactively Protect Your Identity

Before you hop on the plane, train, or automobile, consider investing in identity protection. This way, you can proactively head off any issues that could arise when you should be relaxing. For instance, if your wallet is misplaced or stolen while on vacation, a dark cloud of “what ifs” won’t follow you. What if someone took the contents of your wallet and posted your details online? What if someone used those details to impersonate you online?  

Identity monitoring lessens the possibility of these “what ifs” happening to you. Plus, if someone stole your identity and caused financial damages, identity theft coverage and restoration can recoup your losses and the associated costs necessary to restore your good online standing. In 2021, identity fraud affected 42 million adults and losses totaled $52 billion. Identity monitoring may help you avoid becoming part of these staggering statistics. 

3. Lock Your Credit

Consider freezing your credit before you leave on vacation. A frozen credit means that credit bureaus will prevent anyone (including you) from signing up for a new credit card in your name. So, in case your wallet or passport goes missing or you paid with your credit card at an establishment of dubious character, you can sleep soundly knowing that your hard-earned credit score is intact.  

It’s a good idea to lock your credit before an incident occurs because speed is key to heading off a thief. Additionally, if you’re traveling abroad, it may be difficult to connect to phone numbers in your home country, especially if you didn’t sign up for a roaming cellular plan. 

4. Sign up for a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is a must-have online tool to keep your online comings and goings private when you’re on public Wi-Fi. A VPN is software that scrambles your internet traffic, making it nearly impossible for a cybercriminal to digitally eavesdrop. 

When traveling, especially if you don’t sign up for a roaming cellular or data plan, you’ll rely solely on public Wi-Fi networks in hotels, restaurants, libraries, and transportation hubs. Even if your accommodation’s network is password protected and is offered only to guests, it’s still best to surf with the protection of a VPN because you can’t be sure of the intentions of the hundreds of people connected to it. 

VPNs aren’t difficult to set up and once you’re up and running they’re easy to use and do not slow your internet speed. But because you’d rather be poolside instead of comparing VPN plans, it’s best to sign up and become acquainted with the software before you jet off. 

5. Prepare for the Possibilities

The best defense against cybercriminals and thieves is to arm yourself with knowledge. The more aware you are of their schemes, the better you can sniff them out and avoid them. A few weeks before you leave on vacation, check the news and read up on reports about common emerging scams. For example, be wary of public charging stations as criminals are pumping USB charging ports with malware, according to the FBI.1 

Awareness of schemes like this one can help you better prepare before you leave for vacation. Always leave enough time to fully charge your device before adventuring for the day and consider packing your own power bank if your device’s battery life is unreliable. Also, if you’re traveling to another country, make sure to pack a plug converter so you can plug your devices into outlets instead of USB ports. 

Vacation With Cyber Confidence 

McAfee+ is an excellent everyday online security partner. The all-in-one identity and online protection tool keep you safe wherever you are in the world. The unlimited VPN will protect your online privacy while on public Wi-Fi. Plus, the service includes credit lock, which allows you to lock and unlock your credit at the press of a button. Finally, for peace of mind, if your identity is ever compromised, McAfee+ offers lost wallet protection and $1 million in identity theft coverage. 

Don’t let the thought of thieves – those of the cyber and traditional variety – spoil your long-anticipated vacation. Enjoy your fun in the sun with peace of mind that you’re prepared to overcome any hurdle. 

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