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Protecting Your Identity While on the Road

I often use this column to talk about how to stay safe when traveling. My aim is not to be an alarmist, but rather to inform travelers of ways to protect themselves. With numerous stories stating that credit fraud and identity theft is rapidly on the rise, I began to think about how this relates to travelers. Then I returned from my vacation abroad and was alerted by my credit card company that my account had likely been breached while I was away. I was fortunate that my credit card company had advised me to cancel the account proactively, before any damage was done. But what if they hadn’t? Imagine checking into a hotel, only to find that your account had been frozen. Safeguarding your identity on the road definitely adds another concern to the list of things to monitor when taking a trip–but it’s imperative. If you don’t, it can cost you dearly.

Every 79 seconds, a thief steals someone’s identity, opens accounts in the victim’s name and goes on a buying spree, according to CBSnews.com. And yet, vacation is when we let our guard down most. We’re prone to being carefree on the beach, not guarding our wallet from identity scammers, but identity thieves try to make a carbon-copy of you. Their goal is to pass for you on paper and steal their way into your bank account, which can strike at any time. So if you’re taking a trip, even if it’s just to visit Grandma, there are steps you can take to minimize, and hopefully prevent, any damage.

It goes without saying that you should always keep your belongings with you. That said, don’t take more than you need. Leave your social security card in a very safe place. (As a general rule, don’t give out your Social Security number, unless it’s absolutely required.) You’ll also want to have a copy of every card in your wallet, both front and back, in a safe place at home. Should anything go missing, you’ll need all that information for fast action.

If you’re traveling internationally, it’s a good idea to call your credit card company and make them aware of your plans, so you’re sure to be issue-free when you’re on the road. Don’t forget, you’ll be spending in ways and places that may otherwise seem out of place to your creditor. It can be advisable to pay in cash when traveling abroad, to limit anyone from stealing your credit card information. ONLY use your debit card for withdrawing cash from the ATM, because it draws directly from your bank account. You may also want to see about instituting a daily withdrawal limit from your checking account to safe-guard against too much damage.

When checking in, Internet cafes and business lounges are very handy–but make sure you don’t conduct any private accounting business or access your personal information while doing so. Those places tend to be havens for crafty thieves.

A few numbers to have handy in case your cards are stolen are: Visa 410-581-9994; MasterCard 636-722-7111; and American Express 336-393-1111. The three credit companies that you’ll need to alert in case of identity theft are: Equifax 800-685-1111; Trans Union 800-888-4213; and Experian 888-397-3742.

Remember to protect your identity no matter where you are. Rip up every credit card receipt and any carbon copies and check your credit status regularly. Make sure to purge unnecessary items from your wallet at least twice a year. Get in the mindset of protection. Take advantage of a free credit report annually by visiting: www.annualcreditreport.com.

Being one step ahead of the thieves and remaining on the lookout for signs of account foul play can help you thwart someone stealing from you—which means you’ll be sure to keep your vacation for relaxing.

amy_ziff

My name: Amy is my name, but I'll answer to Ame, Ames or Aimee.

How I earn my keep: My beat is travel, but my passion is collecting stories from people I meet on the road.

Hotel I could move into: Must I pick only one?! The Palacio Duhau a Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires tops my list. For the stunning restoration of the palace and tasteful new tower that create a thoughtful intersection of old and new. Every public and private space captivates. I'd move for the grand Alvear entry as much as for the manicured garden. For the wine and cheese tastings, the dulce de leche, the art gallery, the flower shop and for all the careful attention to detail that went into creating a hotel that is transcendent. If I were to pick a hotel that most felt like me, it would be The Inn at the Manor in the Cotswolds. Oh, I could definitely live there curled up with a book in a leather chair in the bar or outside among the English wildflowers. If I wanted to live in a land far away, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater Lodge would make a unique home with a view of the crater floor from every room (including the loo!), sumptuous beds, endless roses and the most unusual neighbors - massive water buffalo who won't bother you if you stay close to your Maori guide.

If I won the lottery, I'd live in: A historic farmhouse with an enormous barn and hundreds of acres tucked into a small town in New England or a Malibu beach house with stunning views and the surf just steps away. On second thought, winning the lottery means I could jet from coast to coast and enjoy them both.

Favorite way to get around: By foot. Whether in the city or country, I find the best way to get to know someplace is ambling around to discover and sample the distinct sights, sounds, smells, and tastes a place has to offer.

View that took my breath away: Looking toward the sky in Arusha and watching black and white Colobus monkeys scramble among the treetops, jumping from one tree to the next, floating through the sky like a primate version of Superman. Monkeys know how to have a good time!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: The place I visited last. What can I say? I'm fickle.

Follow me on twitter @amyziff

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