Identity theft doesn't just happen when you're at home. In fact, you may be even more vulnerable to it while traveling because you're carrying your valuable personal information around with you in unfamiliar and distracting environments. In this article, we'll give you some tips for keeping your identity safe while you're on the road.

TUTORIAL: Credit Cards

Don't Perform Sensitive Transactions over Public Wi-Fi
Whether you pay for access or not, public Wi-Fi networks are not secure. It's tempting to log on in airports, hotels and airplanes whether you want to kill some time, check your email or make sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay for the rest of your trip.

Don't do it. Criminals can use a technique called Wi-Fi sniffing to intercept data transmitted insecurely over a wireless network, and programs that facilitate Wi-Fi sniffing are readily available online. Even accessing your Facebook account could be a bad idea. If someone hijacks your account, they could send embarrassing messages to your friends, post inappropriate status updates and do other things that might damage your reputation. Smartphone users can protect themselves by using their carrier's secure 3G or 4G service. Otherwise, handle any sensitive online business on your secure home network before you leave town. (For related reading, see What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen.)

Use a Different Computer Exclusively for Travel
Laptops and netbooks are so cheap these days that you might be able to afford more than one. If you travel enough to make such a purchase worthwhile, get a new computer that you will use exclusively for travel. Since it's not possible to completely erase data from a computer, strictly limit the amount of sensitive data that goes onto your travel computer. If it's lost or stolen, you won't have as big of a problem as if you had lost your main laptop with all your tax returns on it.

Clean out Your Wallet
Pare down the contents of your wallet to only the essential items you'll need on your trip. If your wallet is lost or stolen while you're traveling, it will be easier to clean up the mess if you know exactly what your wallet contained and if it only contains a few items. You'll need your driver's license or other ID, two different credit cards, some cash and that's about it. Leave your debit card at home if at all possible. Credit cards offer superior theft protection. You also shouldn't need your health insurance card, numerous credit cards or any checks. You certainly shouldn't bring your Social Security card with you. In fact, it should never be in your wallet.

Use a Money Belt
A wallet isn't that hard for a pickpocket to snatch, but a money belt that's worn under your clothes and against your body is considerably more difficult to grab. As long as you avoid getting into your money belt in public, a potential thief won't know where to look for it, and you'd likely feel it moving against your body if a pickpocket did manage to find it. Not all money belts are worn around the waist. Some can be worn around the leg or around the neck. Get one that feels comfortable and secure.

Put Mail Deliveries on Hold
Nothing says "we're not home" like a pile of newspapers in the driveway. And while you may not care if someone steals your newspaper while you're gone, you will care if they steal a package you ordered or anything out of your mailbox. You also don't want to signal that there's no one inside your home - if someone can steal your identity out of your mailbox, think of the damage they can do with all the documents that are probably lying around your house. It's free and easy to place a hold on your postal service deliveries at the USPS website, and many newspapers will also let you put your subscription on hold through their websites. Ideally you would also have a neighbor, friend or relative check your house once or twice a day for any flyers that get hung on your front door or left on your doorstep.

Be Cautious
No one wants to spend his or her entire vacation looking over his or her shoulder, and you don't have to be suspicious of everyone you meet. At the same time, you shouldn't be too trusting around strangers. Don't ask someone at the airport to watch your bag while you run to the restroom (that's a bad idea anyway given airport security procedures). Make sure no one is trying to observe what you're doing on your laptop or smartphone, be careful what you reveal in cell phone conversations in public places and be aware that strangers asking for help are sometimes trying to distract you while an associate picks your pocket.

The Bottom Line
Don't put yourself at high risk of identity theft when you travel. Identity theft is not a crime you can entirely prevent, but you can take basic precautions to minimize your risk of becoming a target. (For related reading, see Identity Theft: Who To Call For Help.)

Related Articles
  1. Credit & Loans

    Should I Use My IRA to Pay Off My Credit Cards?

    Cashing in an IRA to deal with outstanding credit card balances may not be the best way, but sometimes it's the best available way. Here's how.
  2. Credit & Loans

    Walmart MoneyCard Vs. Walmart Credit Card

    Discover how the Walmart MoneyCard and the Walmart credit card have different benefits that may influence your decision on which one to choose.
  3. Savings

    These 10 Habits Will Help You Reach Financial Freedom

    Learn 10 key habits for achieving financial freedom, including smart budgeting, staying abreast of new tax deductions and the importance of proper maintenance.
  4. Credit & Loans

    Have Bad Credit? 6 Ways to a Personal Loan Anyway

    It'll cost you more, but borrowing is definitely doable. Here's how to proceed.
  5. Credit & Loans

    How To Minimize Holiday Debt Before It Happens

    Holiday expenses can drown you in debt. Find out how to avoid this festive spending hangover.
  6. Credit & Loans

    These Are The Best Credit Cards For Making Balance Transfers

    Handled correctly – and very carefully – a promotional credit card balance transfer offer can save you money. Here are some of the best deals around now.
  7. Home & Auto

    Make This The Year You Get Vacation Insurance

    With a few simple policy additions you can protect your holiday plans from being ruined.
  8. Investing

    How to Raise Your Credit Score Quickly

    Here are the best tips for raising your credit score quickly.
  9. Credit & Loans

    Getting Your Name Off A Cosigned Loan

    If you want to remove your name from someone else’s loan, there are four key ways to do it.
  10. Credit & Loans

    How Credit Card Delinquency Works

    When you pay less than the minimum monthly payment on your credit cards, you become delinquent.
  1. Is Apple Pay safe and free?

    Apple Pay is a mobile payment system created by Apple to reducing the number of times shoppers and buyers have to pay for ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can you use your Walmart credit card at Sam's Club?

    Consumers can use their Walmart credit cards to shop at Sam's Club. However, they cannot use their Walmart credit cards when ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How can you cancel your Walmart credit card?

    Walmart offers two types of credit cards: the Walmart MasterCard and the Walmart credit card. How to Close Your Walmart Credit ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does the Walmart credit card have an annual fee?

    The Walmart credit card does not charge annual fees to its cardholders. It does, however, have other fees associated with ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How do NetSpend cards work?

    NetSpend prepaid MasterCard and Visa cards are popular prepaid debit cards requiring no minimum balance and no credit check. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can the Best Buy credit card be used anywhere?

    The Best Buy credit card can only be used in Best Buy stores and when making purchases online through the Best Buy website. ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center