Despite the fact that identity fraud is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S., about 40 percent of Southland residents have little or no concern about it happening to them while traveling or visiting retail locations this summer, according to a new survey by the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The survey also revealed that nearly one-third of polled Southern California residents do not plan to take a few common precautions to prevent or minimize the effects of ID theft while on vacation this summer, such as removing unneeded IDs or credit cards from one’s wallet before traveling.
“Identity theft is not a crime that makes sensational headlines, but today you are more likely to become an ID theft victim than a victim of almost any other type of crime,” said Denise Bialek, program manager for the Auto Club’s identity theft monitoring benefits for members. “Between shopping, walking in crowded areas, visiting attractions, staying at hotels and eating out frequently, vacations can present many additional chances for a traveler to have his or her identity stolen.”
Bialek recommends that in addition to removing unneeded credit cards and identification from one’s wallet prior to a trip, travelers should photocopy their ID or passport and bring that copy in their luggage in case their wallet is stolen on the trip, and they should also contact their credit card companies to alert them when and where they will be traveling. Thirty-two percent of those responding to the Auto Club poll said they do none of those things prior to going on vacation.
The Auto Club recommends that travelers take the following added steps before leaving on a summer vacation:
- When planning your trip, be skeptical of any e-mail purportedly from one of your travel providers that directs you to a website in which credit card or personal information is entered. One of the largest forms of fraud is “phishing,” in which victims receive an email that directs to a phony website that is an exact copy of a real website and requests users to enter personal and financial data, supposedly to verify accounts.
- Also when planning your trip, do not give out your credit card number, social security number, birth date or other personal information over the phone unless you are familiar with the merchant or you have initiated the call.
- If you plan to bring a smart phone and/or a laptop on the trip, you can create a password-protected file on it ahead of time to store your credit card account numbers and issuer contact information, allowing for quick reporting if credit cards are lost or stolen.
- Sign up for an identity theft monitoring service. Some are available for free through consumers’ business affiliations and memberships, while more robust solutions are offered for a fee. For example, Auto Club members can receive free credit monitoring and identity fraud resolution support from CreditCheck® Select, a part of Experian®, just by signing up for the member benefit at www.AAA.com. AAA members also save 30 percent on a more robust solution called ProtectMyID™, also offered by Experian.
- When making travel reservations or any purchase over the Internet using a credit card, make sure that the site provides a secure, encrypted location for you to enter your credit card information (the prefix address at the top of the Web site should be https:// rather than http://)
While traveling this summer or anytime, the Auto Club recommends:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Tourist areas can be targets for pickpocketers – your travel agent can often advise you which areas have a reputation for possible theft. Consider using a securely strapped travel wallet to store your credit cards and identification, or if carrying a purse, make sure you keep it with you zipped, secure and visible to you at all times.
- Treat your credit cards and all your identification like cash. Keep them securely in your wallet when not needed.
- Check your bank and credit card activity online and/or at an ATM at least once during the trip if you are able to do so in a secure manner. This will help you quickly detect whether you have become a victim of “skimming.” Skimming often occurs in restaurants and bars where credit cards are out of sight of the cardholder. Secret copies of the magnetic strip are made in order to make a counterfeit card.
- Report billing errors and lost or stolen cards immediately to resolve problems in a timely manner and reduce possible fraudulent activity.
- Track your usage by keeping receipts for your ATM, credit and debit cards.
- When entering a debit card pin or displaying your credit card or driver’s license for a purchase, shield them from the view of bystanders.
- It is wiser to use a credit card rather than a debit card when making purchases on vacation. When you use a debit card, it is your money at stake and not the bank’s.
- If traveling by car, don’t leave any valuable items in the car containing credit cards or credit card information such as a purse or laptop if possible. If you must leave valuables in the car, hide them from view.
The Auto Club’s summer travel and identity theft survey was conducted online from April 27 to May 3 by the Auto Club’s Marketing Research Department, and was taken by more than 600 Auto Club members in Southern California and a total of 2,300 AAA members around the country. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percent.