(BPT) - If your suitcase is full, don't worry - protecting yourself from fraud doesn't mean more packing.
But it does mean you should prepare for the challenge of keeping your personal info safe. According to an Experian(R) survey, 20 percent of respondents had sensitive information like credit or debit cards, personal identification or smartphones stolen while on vacation. 'As you travel, your exposure to risk can expand,' says Chip Kohlweiler, vice president of security at Navy Federal Credit Union. 'Before you head out, ensure your financial institution is up to date with your contact information. This will minimize disruptions in service, and you can leverage travel notifications and card freeze/unfreeze features,' he adds.
Fraudsters are waiting for you to slip into cruise control, so being alert can save you stress - and money. But when do you need to be on your toes and when can you kick back and relax? Let's walk through a few travel checkpoints so you know where threats are lurking.
Window shopping for your perfect trip can ignite wanderlust. But keep your wits as you browse through destinations and travel offers online. You'll want to be extra careful, especially if you plan to make a payment or provide personal information for bookings.
You're probably using a phone, computer, tablet or combination of these to do your planning. Regardless of what device you're on, you can use your travel savvy to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
Watch out for:
* Offers for 'free' trips, or travel prices that are too good to be true
* Fake travel websites
* Hidden costs in package deals - read the fine print!
* Requests for personal information
As with any online purchase, check the URL of the site you're on. If you're looking at a web page but the URL doesn't match the site you had in mind, you could be looking at a fake site being run by a fraudster.
If your site checks out, read the fine print and know exactly what you're signing up for before you enter any payment or personal info. Don't hesitate to call and confirm any of the information you see. If the company or individual doesn't offer a phone number, it's probably not legit.
When it comes to calling, you should be doing the dialing. It's illegal for companies to call you with an automated message if you haven't given them written permission to do so. The voice recording that offers you a prize in exchange for your credit card could be trying to scam you.
While you're traveling
You dodged the traps and booked your travel with ease. But the fraudsters haven't called it quits, and neither should you. There are a few hot spots where you should stay alert, including:
* Hotel lobbies
* Public hangouts (like coffee shops or popular tourist hubs)
Pickpocketing - one of the oldest scams in the book - is popular in these busy atmospheres. Avoid distractions that take your focus away from your belongings. Remember, your personal space is exactly that - personal!
Protecting your digital information is just as important as your physical space. High-traffic areas may offer public Wi-Fi. These networks are an easy access point for cybercriminals. Some fraudsters even create their own hot spots and name them based on the location.
'The last thing you should do is access your bank account or any sensitive account on a public network,' says Kohlweiler. Data on your phone becomes available to a criminal when you connect to these public networks. Your best course of action is to keep your phone or tablet stowed away until you can jump on a password-protected network, like in your hotel room.
Partner with a sidekick
The good news is you're not in this alone. There are services and resources out there to make fraud protection easier. For instance, as a Navy Federal member, you can call or go online to set up a travel notification. You can also request account info via text. Tools like these can put you one step ahead of the criminals. If you are a victim of fraud, we have a team dedicated to resolving these issues, too.
When you return home, be sure to get in touch with a representative to check in. It never hurts to have two sets of eyes reviewing your account after a big trip.
If you're planning to travel, do your research and remember to pack your fraud protections. And make security tools, like the ones available through Navy Federal, your travel buddy.