Five Tips to Protect Yourself From Scammers While Traveling

Key Points in This Article:

  • In the wake of the pandemic, travel has picked up again, creating new vulnerabilities for scammers to exploit.
  • Whether traveling for business or leisure, everybody should follow these five safety tips to ensure sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands.

As the pandemic has receded, more and more people are traveling again. But traveling creates considerable cybersecurity risks that many people aren’t aware of or ignore. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, a few simple precautions can help protect your employer’s or your personal information. But ignoring cybersecurity when you travel can turn your long-awaited trip into a nightmare that will likely follow you home.

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Rising Cybersecurity Threats

Even before the pandemic, online B2C and B2B financial transactions grew steadily each year. Many government systems have also increasingly adopted online payment to manage tax, benefits, and related transactions. The resulting pool of digital currency streams has long been enticing to hackers and scammers. Armed with easy-to-obtain tools, they’ve been able to exploit security vulnerabilities in our personal practices and corporate networks and enrich themselves with relatively little effort.

The pandemic has made cybercrime even more enticing. The rapid shift to remote work, massive electronic distribution of government benefits, and surge in online shopping have kept criminals busy. Even with the threat of COVID-19 receding, lasting shifts in how we use technology have left businesses, organizations, and individuals more vulnerable than ever. And despite high-profile ransomware attacks, such as those on The Colonial Pipeline Company, JBS Foods, and Kaseya in recent years, many companies still have not taken the appropriate steps to shore up their cyber defenses.

Even those now find themselves under siege from more innovative and elaborate scams. Hackers and scammers will use every innovative tool and new trend, from AI-powered tools and QR codes to dating apps, to infiltrate our networks and devices for illicit gain. They’ll target businesses and individuals indiscriminately. And despite law enforcement-issued warnings, news media headlines, and even personal stories from family members and friends, many do not take the most basic precautions to protect our personal information.

Taking a day trip, a short vacation, or a long-term sabbatical can put us at risk in ways we may not have considered. To safeguard your valuable financial information while traveling, follow these five tips:

Physically Protect Your Devices

You may think nothing of leaving your laptop or smartphone in your hotel room while you run downstairs for a quick minute. But doing so is a bad idea. Your hotel room is not secure. Multiple types of hacks can allow thieves to open electronic door locks. Additionally, hotel employees have access to your room. The hospitality industry has a high turnover rate, and you could easily fall victim to a disgruntled employee who chooses to commit theft on their way out.

And if you’ve observed housekeeping crews cleaning hotel rooms, you’ll notice some keep more than one door open as staff move between the hallway and each room. Someone could slip in and out without notice, taking your device with them in seconds.

Instead, keep your device on you at all times. If there’s a hotel safe, take advantage of it. Lock up your laptop and travel documents, especially in a foreign country. Keep your smartphone on you at all times as well. Too many people fail to do this and miss their devices and sensitive information.

Turn Off Auto Connect

Don’t have your devices set to auto-connect to open networks. It’s convenient to do so. And it may be tempting, given the high fees some hotels charge for Internet access. In regions with inconsistent cell service, auto-connect may seem essential.

However, these networks are inherently unsafe and pose a substantial security risk. When you auto-connect, you may use a network controlled by a hacker. Or you may find yourself on a legitimate network on which any information you transmit is vulnerable to being intercepted. Instead, use mobile routers or hotspots through your Internet Service Provider or VPN access through your employer.

Bluetooth is just as much of a security risk when it comes to auto-connecting as WiFi. Ensure Bluetooth is not set to auto-connect, or you could easily find your personal or employer information compromised on your next trip.

Connect to a Safe Network

Disabling auto-connect is one way to ensure you don’t connect to an unsecured network. Another way? Make sure that you’re only connecting to password-protected networks.

If your hotel WiFi allows you to connect automatically without a password, it’s unsafe to use. Typically, hotels prioritizing cybersecurity will generate new WiFi access passwords for each new guest, good for the length of their stay, with new passwords generated for common areas daily. Doing so makes it more difficult for hackers and scammers to access and intercept guest communications and financial information.

But despite some high-profile hospitality industry hacks, some hotels still fail to take basic precautions to protect their guests. If you’ve found yourself in such a hotel, make sure to access WiFi securely through means other than the hotel’s network. Don’t rebook that hotel in the future. And before you book your next trip, ask the hotel about what cybersecurity precautions they have in place to protect their guests.

Don’t Share Personal Information On Public Terminals

It’s best to avoid the computers found in a hotel’s business center if you can. These publicly shared devices are inherently unsafe and should not be used if possible. You especially want to avoid them if the hotel is not taking other cybersecurity precautions like providing guests with password-protected WiFi.

But if you can’t avoid using them not, don’t use them to conduct financial transactions or share sensitive information. The information you share can easily be intercepted by hackers using standard tools. And the most diligent among us may forget to log out of a session on a hotel computer after quickly using a credit card to adjust our flight itinerary.

Instead, use your smartphone or laptop for all financial transactions or sensitive emails. You’ll limit your risk substantially when you do.

Don’t Post On Social Networks to Let People Know You’re Traveling

It’s tempting to post about your upcoming trip on social media. But while your friends and family will see your post, so will hackers and scammers. With that bit of information, you may receive more phishing emails designed to take advantage of the fact that you’re traveling. Your friends and family may also find themselves receiving emails, supposedly from you, leveraging that crucial detail.

Identity theft is one risk you take when you post about your trip online. But your post may also attract the attention of thieves who will target your home. Rather than post about your trip beforehand or during, post about it after the fact. Doing so will afford you security and peace of mind while you’re away.

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I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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