My friend Julie was on vacation in Rome with her 14 year old daughter. During their visit, they stopped to take selfies. Spotting their struggle to adjust and the grandeur of the backdrop in the frame, a seemingly kind stranger – a man in his 30s – offered to take their picture.
Mary entered her PIN to unlock her iPhone and handed it over. To his utter horror, this supposed Good Samaritan turned out to be a thief. He snatched his phone and fled, leaving Mary and her daughter stunned. Her iPhone was missing and the thief had her PIN.
This is far from the only way for a cybercriminal or an actual schemer to ruin your trip. Before you board the plane or get in the car, read these tips for staying safe on your next vacation.
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1. Don’t post photos of your boarding pass or other travel documents
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You are excited, waiting for the plane. What’s wrong with posting a picture of your boarding pass? A lot. Boarding passes display your full legal name, ticket number and passenger name. This six-digit code plus your last name allows anyone to access your online booking information.
The same goes for your license, passport, visa or other identification documents. Thieves keep tabs on all the details they can use.
Keep these pics on your phone before the holidays – scroll down to #3. You’ll thank me if anything’s missing!
2. Watch what you’re doing on public Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi at the airport, hotel or cafe is tempting (who wants to pay?), but it’s not always safe. A savvy cybercriminal can use open networks to intercept your data. Rule #1: Never use a public connection to do your online banking, access files containing sensitive information, or log into important accounts.
If you need to do these things, enable a virtual private network (VPN) or your phone’s hotspot.
3. Keep it mysterious
Sharing your location live with your friends on social media is a blatant invitation: my house is empty! In a perfect world, you’d wait to post vacation photos and updates until you got home. If you can’t wait, the least you can do is make sure all your profiles are private. Just be aware that your messages can still spread beyond those you trust, regardless of your settings.
4. Keep your place private
Just like broadcasting your flight information, you should also hold the name or location of your hotel or Airbnb close to your chest. A creep could do a lot with this information in the wrong hands. If you must share, stick with a general city or region. Wait to show your new favorite hotel when you get home.
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5. Check your location settings
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Some social media apps automatically tag your location in pictures, recordings, or updates. Even if you are careful about what you post, social media sites can tell you about it without you realizing it. Check your posts to make sure automatic location tags are not enabled. If so, you can adjust it in your settings or remove it on every post.
Who (or what) else do you share your location with? Check your settings now.
6. Details are also private
Posting a day-by-day breakdown of your trip is serious ammunition in the wrong hands. If you tell the world you’re going snorkeling on Saturday, a criminal knows, “Score! The hotel is empty!”
7. Beware of public charging stations
A public charging station seems like a godsend when your battery is dying and you have nowhere to plug it in, but it’s incredibly easy to tamper with. With a simple USB cable, a cybercriminal can install malware or suck data from every device that plugs in to charge.
That’s why you should pack your portable battery bank. It won’t take up much room in your bag and you’ll be happy to have it if your load gets low.
8. Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds a level of security by requiring a second way to identify that it is you seeking access to an account, beyond just a password. This is usually a code sent via email/SMS or to another device. Yes, it adds an extra step, but it can keep hackers out if your password is compromised.
9. Be picky when using a credit card
They may seem relatively low-tech compared to smarter tools, but map skimmers are not unheard of. These tiny devices attach to card readers in stores, ATMs or outdoor payment locations and collect all your card information.
Do not use your credit card anywhere. ATMs and gas stations in rural areas without security cameras are big targets. Stick to cash or your phone’s built-in payment options if you get a weird feeling.
You don’t know how? Here’s your guide to paying with your smartphone.
10. Keep an eye on your technology
You work in a cafe in your favorite city, away from home. Packing everything to go to the bathroom or get a new latte is boring. Should you? Absolutely.
Even a few seconds are enough for someone to slip your device. Within minutes, someone can install spyware or other malicious software that you’ll never know exists.
The good news if your phone goes missing: you can wipe it remotely. Take action now to ensure yours is ready in case the worst happens.
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