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Don't let your guard down on vacation

Travelers targeted by identity thieves

Created date

July 14th, 2014
couple checking into hotel
couple checking into hotel

Vacations are meant to be fun and relaxing, so the next time you take a trip, go ahead, sleep late, and enjoy that special dessert but don’t let your guard down when it comes to protecting your identity. Scammers are preying on travelers—stealing critical information through Wi-Fi and with illegal ATM skimming devices. It’s so easy for them and, oftentimes, people don’t even know they’ve been victimized until after their vacation is over. A bit of awareness can help save you from returning home with the unwanted souvenir of identity-theft.

When you leave home, make sure you take along only the essentials, including your driver’s license and passport. If you won’t be using a particular credit or debit card, leave it at home. That goes for your social security card as well. If you have a Medicare card, make a copy of it and black out all but the last four digits. Keep the original at home and take the copy with you.

Many destinations offer Wi-Fi access to the Internet. Before you log on however, keep in mind that Wi-Fi hotspots are not secure. Avoid sending any personal or financial information when connected to public Wi-Fi because scammers could intercept your data. Many websites use encryption to keep the site secure. If the Web address starts with “https,” it is encrypted. Be sure that each page you use to make purchases or send information to has that last “s” in the address. 

Also, be careful about what Wi-Fi network you sign into. Scammers have been known to set up phony sites with names that are very close to popular destinations like airports or hotels. Double-check to be sure that you are actually using the right network before signing on.

Calls to your hotel room

And don’t let your guard down once you’ve checked in to your hotel. Scammers sometimes call hotel guests pretending to be the front desk. They say there’s a problem with your credit card and ask you to read it over the phone. If the front desk really had an issue with your card, it would have been discovered when you checked in. 

Exercise caution when using ATM machines and gas pumps, particularly in major tourist areas. Crooks plant devices on the machines that are virtually undetectable by users—the makers of this equipment have become very adept at creating them so that they blend right into the ATM or gas pump. Inspect ATMs, gas pumps, and credit card readers before using and be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged, or if you notice scratches or adhesive/tape residue.

When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number. If possible, use an ATM at an inside location (less access for criminals to install skimmers). If your card isn’t returned after the transaction or after hitting “cancel,” immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.

A little caution goes a long way toward making your next vacation safe and secure.

If you have any scam stories you’d like to share with Tribune readers, send them If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at or 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).