(Exerpts from O'Brien, Fran. "While Your Clients Are Away, Cybercriminals Will Prey," Investment Advisor July 2017)
Travel seems to be on everyone's calendar this summer. Safety and security are uppermost on most travelers' minds today. In fact, 72% of U.S. travelers said they would pay more for their vacation if they could ensure greater security, according to a recent survey by Travelzoo. What travelers may not realize is that cyber-crime is now as much a threat, if not more, than conventional dangers. Before heading out on your journey, protect yourself with the techniques in this checklist:
- Don’t discuss travel plans on social media. Social media is great for keeping friends and family informed about your travels, but sharing can back-fire if cybercriminals find out when you are away and burgle your home. It is best to avoid posting travel dates or itineraries, to warn others not to share your travel plan, and never to reveal when no one is home.
- Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Always use secure connections when going online in public places. If you have to use an unsecured connection, never check bank balances, login to credit card or other accounts, or share important personal information. This information can easily be stolen over an unsecure network. Remember, also, to turn off Bluetooth and other connectivity features when in a public area, as these features can be just as vulnerable as Wi-Fi.
- Be careful getting cash and making payments. Be cautious of where you make payments or get cash, since these are the key access points for identity theft among cybercriminals. Using ATMs at a bank branch is safer than using standalone ATMs, and using a credit card for merchandise purchases is safer than using a debit card, which provides direct access to a bank account. You should also be sure your liability policy has identity theft coverage.
- Turn off home computers. If you are one of those folks who has a habit of leaving your computer on constantly, keep in mind that “always-on” computers are more susceptible to hacking.
- Back up all data. Store all sensitive files in a secure facility on the cloud and back up your data onto a removable storage device that can be kept in a home safe.
- Change passwords. If you are taking an iPhone on your trip, please consider changing your Apple ID password to something long and difficult to hack. Also, you should remove any stored credit card information associated with your Apple account and turn on the lock-screen passcode. That way, if your phone is lost or stolen, little information can be accessed. Also, be sure you turn on the “Find My Phone” feature, which can help you find a misplaced or stolen device and the information stored on it.
- Register for the Smart Traveler program. The State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/ is a free service that allows citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy. Enrollment enables embassies to reach travelers in an emergency, as well as help family and friends contact the travelers.
- Protect your home while you are away.
- Alert your home alarm provider to your travel plans, so they will know the house is vacant. Ask if they offer an encryption tool for your home security system to make it less vulnerable to hackers.
- Disconnect your garage door opener and lock it manually to protect from criminals who can crack the electronic code.
- Unplug any devices or appliances connected to the Internet.