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Vacation is supposed to be a time of relaxation and enjoyment. But sometimes when you least expect it, identity theft can steal all the joy from a trip you worked so hard to plan. Instead of relaxing by the pool or engaging in an activity with family and friends, you find yourself on the phone with financial institutions, attempting to dispute fraudulent charges and investigate how your identity might have been compromised.

Unfortunately, identity theft can not only ruin your vacation, but cause years of headaches to sort through all the issues that come as a result. With that in mind, take note of these strategies to reduce the chances of becoming one of the millions that fall victim to identity theft each year:

1. Protect your home in your absence

Thieves are always looking for signs that people have temporarily vacated their homes. But there are several things you can do to give the appearance you haven’t gone anywhere. Consider investing in an automatic system that causes outdoor lights turn on and off at certain times. It’s also important to ask a neighbor or friend to collect your newspapers, mail and/or packages that may build up on your doorstep. If you can’t find someone to do such a task for you, contact the post office and newspaper company and put a hold on all your deliveries until you return. An extra precaution would be to hire a house sitter to take care of all of the above on your behalf, as well as personally check the state of your home on a daily basis.

Lastly, think twice before posting vacation photos and status updates on social media, especially if your account(s) are public. Any of this personal information is useful both to burglars and identity thieves.

2. Keep Watch Over Your Credit and Finances

It’s tempting to take a break from monitoring your bank account while you’re on vacation. But This should actually be a time when you become even more vigilant than usual to ensure there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on with your finances.

It’s easy for fraudulent charges to be overlooked in all the travel-related charges on your credit card. Don’t let this happen to you; instead set a reminder on your phone to do a quick scan each day over your bank account to make sure there are no suspicious charges. If you haven’t already downloaded an app from your bank to check your account from your smartphone, be sure to do so before you get on the road as it can cut down on the amount of time it takes to monitor your finances. Or, even better, upload all your accounts using a service like Mint so you can view everything at once. There are also multiple free credit monitoring services that can notify you to any alterations to your credit report.

Try not to check financial statements or log into accounts while connected to public Wi-Fi, however, as your data is less secure and could be stolen without your knowledge. Instead, wait until you’re on your personal device are on a secure network so there’s less of a chance your information could be swiped.

3. Secure Your Technology

One of the best aspects of your smartphone, tablet, laptop and other devices is convenience. Unfortunately, that can also work in the favor of identity thieves. The two best things you can do to protect your devices is to set strong, hard-to-hack passwords for each account, as well as auto-lock all your devices. It may seem time consuming to enter your password each time you want to log into each device and account, however, it will be well worth the extra 10 seconds if it prevents identity thieves from automatically logging in and accessing your information.

4. Notify Credit Card Providers of Your Travel Plans

It’s reassuring to know credit card companies have your back when it comes to combating identity theft. Helping to protect your information is vital to them since they’ll likely be stuck paying the fraudulent charges should your account be compromised.

By notifying your credit card companies where and when you will be traveling, you’re giving them a heads up that you’re the one actually using your card, thus diminishing the chances they’ll think the card is stolen. By having this communication prior to going on your trip, you’ll also reduce the chances of your credit card company denying access to your card, thus preventing you from using it for vacation expenses. They can additionally help you keep watch for fraudulent charges in other areas.

5. Use Your Credit Card 

We all know that when cash is gone, nine times out of 10, it’s gone with no hope of return. But many don’t realize this fact: it’s a much simpler process to dispute fraudulent activity on a credit card versus a debit card.

While using a credit card alone won’t protect your information, it could spare you some major headaches if your purse or wallet gets lifted. Did you know the Fair Credit Billing Act limits your obligation to cover fraudulent charges on your credit card to $50? And, if your card has a zero-liability policy, you may not have to pay at all. If you’re traveling outside of the country, however, you should be aware some credit cards carry foreign transaction fees, so it’s important to check your card’s policies before jet setting.

6. Clean out your wallet 

This is a good idea even if you’re not going on vacation. Shred all receipts or file them at home. Put your checkbook in a safe place in your home, and also leave gift cards behind unless you plan to use them on vacation. You should never routinely carry your Social Security, Medicare cards or Passport (unless you absolutely need them). If these are in your wallet, remove them permanently. It’s also a good idea to make copies of the important cards and documents you do bring in case they get stolen and you need to report the theft.

You should also think twice about leaving personal information like your credit cards or passport out in your hotel room. It’s best to conceal these important pieces of information securely in your suitcase, or lock them in a hotel safe.

Author Ron L. Brown, CFP®

Ron is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and President of R.L. Brown Wealth Management. He specializes in retirement, estate, and business planning for professionals and entrepreneurs. Ron assists his clients with creating a financial plan to ensure they are able to live their ideal lifestyle during retirement and leave a strong legacy for their family. Ron has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, US News, Yahoo Finance, Investopedia, and numerous other high profile financial publications.

More posts by Ron L. Brown, CFP®
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