Be CyberSafe While on Vacation This Summer
Summer is here, travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are being reduced and it is a great time to escape the day-to-day routine and travel out of town. While a summer vacation can be a great time to relax the mind and body, it is important to be #PrivacyAware. Below are some tips to keep your private information secure and to avoid travel scams.
When shopping, banking, or sharing personal information online, take the same precautions with your smartphone or other device that you do with your personal computer. The mobile nature of these devices means that you should also take precautions for the physical security and consider the way you are accessing the internet.
Public Wi-Fi Networks
Avoid using open Wi-Fi networks to conduct personal business, bank, or shop online. Open Wi-Fi networks at places such as airports, coffee shops, and other public locations present an opportunity for attackers to intercept sensitive information that you would provide to complete an online transaction. If you simply must check your bank balance or make an online purchase while you are traveling, turn off your device's Wi-Fi connection and use your mobile device's cellular data internet connection instead of making the transaction over an unsecure Wi-Fi network.
Bluetooth-enabled accessories can be helpful, such as earpieces for hands-free talking and external keyboards for ease of typing. When these devices are not in use, turn off the Bluetooth setting on your phone. Cyber criminals have the capability to pair with your phone's open Bluetooth connection when you are not using it and steal personal information.
Charging Your Battery
Avoid connecting your mobile device to any computer or charging station that you do not control, such as a charging station at an airport terminal or a shared computer at a library. Connecting a mobile device to a computer using a USB cable can allow software running on that computer to interact with the phone in ways that a user may not anticipate. As a result, a malicious computer could gain access to your sensitive data or install new software.
If you are in the shopping mode, an email that appears to be from a legitimate retailer might be difficult to resist. If the deal looks too good to be true, or the link in the email or attachment to the text seems suspicious, do not click on it!
If you notice that one of your online accounts has been hacked, call the bank, store, or credit card company that owns your account. Reporting fraud in a timely manner helps minimize the impact and lessens your personal liability. You should also change your account passwords for any online services associated with your mobile device using a different computer that you control. If you are the victim of identity theft, additional information is available from https://www.idtheft.gov/.
Vacation Rental Properties
Fraudsters know that renting from private parties is a popular option for many today. Thus, they may create a fake website using great looking photos of a property that they lift from legitimate sites and create a false advertisement with attractive rates. They hope you will contact the person you think is the owner, book a date, and send a pre-payment.
Another scam involves the fraudster posting a phantom listing—the rental does not really exist. The site promises rich amenities at a reasonable price. When you make advanced payment, you think you secured the property for your trip.
In both cases however, by the time you figure out the truth, the fraudulent site is gone and so is your deposit with no way to make contact.
How to protect yourself:
- Be wary if the owner asks you to pay by wire transfer. This is like sending cash—you likely will never get your money back.
- Use a credit card, if possible, for your travel spending. This gives you more protection than paying by cash or debit card — and it may be easier to dispute unauthorized charges.
- Watch out if the owner says he is overseas and wants you to send a deposit to a foreign bank.
- Consider only using a reputable travel website to book your stay. Look for sites that use secure payment portals and/or those that release payment only after you check in.
- Use mapping apps—like Google maps or similar—to confirm that the property really exists.
- Get recommendations from family and friends on good travel agencies, vacation rentals, hotels and travel packages — before responding to offers.
- Look up travel companies, hotels, rentals and agents with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.”
- Look for extra costs. Resort fees (also known as destination, facility and amenity fees) can add $50 or more to your nightly cost.
- Ask about taxes, which may be significant in many locations.
- Get a copy of the cancellation and refund policies before you pay.
- If you buy travel insurance, be sure the agency is licensed.
- Bring copies of any confirmation details that show the rate and amenities promised. This also helps if the hotel or host says your reservation is “lost.”
- Take only the IDs, insurance cards, credit cards and debit cards you need. Make copies so, if someone steals your bag, you will know exactly what was lost.
- If you think you may have been targeted by a travel scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. For more on travel scams, visit ftc.gov/travel.