How to Protect Yourself from Fraud While on Vacation

How to Protect Yourself from Fraud While on Vacation featured image

Whether it’s stretching your toes on a sandy beach or making a moveable feast of a big city’s food truck scene, vacations are a welcomed escape from the everyday.  Meals out, hotel rooms, Uber’s, amusement parks, and museums become the norm, and our desire to see and do it all becomes our top priority.

And while our vacation dreams are likely filled with sunshine and smiles, bad things can and do happen.

So before you pack that last bag, let’s review some of the best ways to protect yourself from fraud while you are away from home.


Secure Your Documents and Personal Information

You on vacation may be the best version of “you”, but bad guys will take whatever version they can get. When traveling, your ID and passport become even more critical.  You’ll need them at the airport, border crossings, and hotels.  Unfortunately, handling them so often can increase the chances of misplacing them, as well as the risk of theft or misuse.

Legendary traveler Rick Steves suggests using a money belt, neck pouch, or hidden pockets to hold your IDs, especially in areas where pickpockets operate.  He further suggests using these accessories as deep storage for your most vital items, things you won’t have to access often. Reserving your pockets for small bills and coins can help you blend in and be more transactional in public without raising the awareness of thieves looking for more valuable items (like the passport you tucked away in your travel pouch).

If something does happen, having proof of your documents can become critical to keeping your vacation on track.  Make photocopies of your ID and passport and store them in less-used bags or leave them in a hotel safe.  This can help make replacement easier.

Apple’s AirTags have completely changed the game when it comes to travel.  By now we’ve all seen stories on the nightly news of travelers tracking their luggage to far-off lands.  AirTags in your money belt or backpack can speed the return of these items should they go missing.  Versions of this technology are now available as cards and in other flat formats, making it easy to place them inside the back pages of your passport or wallet where they are harder to detect, increasing their effectiveness.

Did you know you can even let us know you are traveling via our Mobile App?


Manage Your Finances Safely

We often tell our friends and neighbors that we’ll be heading out on vacation in hopes that they’ll look after our house or perhaps pick up our mail.  Letting The First as well as other financial institutions and credit card companies, know is a good idea, too.  Informing us ensures your FNB ATM/VISA Debit Card will remain active and not be restricted by location-based security measures.

Did you know you can even let us know you are traveling via our FNBNewtown Mobile App?  Simply select the Message Center option and tell us when and where you’ll be traveling.


Your Phone Is A Lifeline (and A Potential Liability)

Not too long ago the thought of going on vacation with your phone would have sounded ridiculous. Now imagine yourself going even a few minutes without looking at your device.  Our phones unlock the world in so many ways, and on vacation, they can be incredible assets.  They can also be targets for theft, both physical and virtual.

Most phones have basic-level protections in place by default and users would be wise to keep that. Saving a few seconds will seem less worth it when faced with the thought of a lost, unlocked phone floating around somewhere.

As a general rule, passwords you create for all of your devices, including your phone, should be strong, memorable, and unique to the device.


Be Cautious with Public and Free Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi networks abound. Open your phone settings and you’re likely to see a handful available to jump on right now.  And while the whole “if it’s free it’s for me” mindset might work well when it comes to food samples at the local wholesale warehouse, when it comes to Wi-Fi access a little more discernment is important.

Public Wi-FI networks are prone to risks including data interception, with bad players literally able to see the data you are transmitting across a network.  What seems benign when searching for a restaurant or the best beach to view that evening’s sunset becomes more dangerous when you are submitting credit card information to make online purchases.

A recent Forbes survey shows how often we act against our own instincts, especially when it comes to internet access on the go. 35% of respondents noted they use public Wi-Fi three to four times a month, though only 23% of those polled viewed using these networks as “safe.”  Worse yet, 43% admitted to having their private information compromised while using public Wi-Fi.

The best way to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi may be not using it at all.  Of course, that isn’t always practical or reasonable.  On any network, you should prioritize secure sites with ”https://” in their URL and generally limit activity with the knowledge that anything you transmit may be more public than you wish.  Virtual Private Networks (VPN), firewalls, anti-virus and anti-malware software can be as useful on vacation as they are at home and work. You can read even more online safety tips in one of our prior blog posts.


Cards Over Cash/Credit Over Debit

Credit cards, including those offered by The First, are becoming the go-to form of payment for almost everything these days.  No longer limited to big-ticket items, cards are widely accepted for even the smallest of transactions and from a safety standpoint are generally preferable to cash.

Doing some research before you leave on good cards for travel can often reveal special perks and benefits that will enhance your experiences.  Fraud protection and dispute resolution services make reaching for credit cards to use abroad a great choice.

Of note, credit cards and debit cards look similar but act differently. It’s considered a best practice to minimize the use of your debit card while on vacation to help prevent direct account access by fraudsters.

Sharing your travel details and vacation photos on social media makes you more vulnerable to digital scams.


Be Smart On Social Media

Our vacation photos and posts can tell a story of the fun we are having, but doing so in real-time can open us up to unintended risks. Those photos from halfway across the world timestamped from just a few minutes ago can tip off thieves that you won’t be home for a while.  Check-ins at spots on your travels can tell local bad guys that you are in their area, with your profile photos making it easier for them to figure out exactly who you are.

Adjust your privacy settings to only share with friends or private groups and avoid the temptation of app-related check-ins, even when it comes with the promise of a free drink or appetizer. Remember, a big photo dump at the end of your vacation once you’ve safely returned home can stoke just as much vacation envy as those minute-by-minute updates. It’s a reminder that the information we share online can be used against us by scammers, so be mindful when sharing ay personal details!


Stay Informed about Local Scams

Scams and scammers have been around for ages and their tactics run from the most basic “bait and switch” to complex and contrived scenarios. From fake taxis and tours to rigged card games, these scams continue to be deployed because they are effective.  Do your due diligence on typical tourist scams at your destination ahead of time and learn the lessons of those who have gone before you.  The US Department of State has resources online as do many tourism boards and user-generated content sites like Reddit or TripAdvisor.


The Best Vacation Is A Safe Vacation

Vacations are meant for fun, and falling victim to fraud can ruin things faster than rain or a missed flight.  Being alert and aware goes a long way toward ensuring a successful getaway, as will following the above advice.

At The First, we are here for you, whether you’re at home in Bucks Country, or abroad. Contact us for any assistance while traveling and be sure to read our tips for planning a vacation on a budget. We look forward to welcoming you back home when you return.