When picturing the perfect getaway, we all have different ideals. You may picture a serene day at the beach, while someone else envisions a secluded weekend in the mountains. But whether you prefer snow or sand, we can all agree no one’s dream vacation includes identity theft. Yet, cases of identity theft have increased significantly in recent years according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). And while having your identity stolen is never convenient or fun, when it happens while you’re traveling, it can leave you feeling particularly vulnerable.
Identity theft can take many forms, but it typically involves personal identification information such as your Social Security number, date of birth, birthplace and more falling into the wrong hands. With this information, cybercriminals can potentially gain access to accounts, reservations and other personal information online. It’s a scary situation and acting quickly can mitigate the impact.
This identity theft game plan and user-friendly resources can help you get back on track and help you take steps toward getting identity theft under control.
Steps to take if your identity has been stolen
Finding out your identity has been compromised is scary but getting it back on track is possible. The most important thing to remember is that you need to take immediate action.
Take the following nine steps to minimize the damage once you realize you may be a victim of identity theft.
- File a claim with your identity theft insurance
- File a police report
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Freeze your credit
- Contact your financial institutions and credit card companies
- Change passwords and tighten security on your accounts
- Review your credit reports
- Check recent transactions
- Set up a mail hold
File a claim with your identity theft insurance
If you have an identity protection plan, such as LifeLock or PrivacyGuard, they should be one of your first calls. As identity theft experts, they can guide you through the following steps and may provide additional resources and advice. Some providers also offer complimentary identity theft resolution services to their policyholders for further peace of mind.
File a police report
Once you’ve made your claim, you should immediately file a report with the local police department and obtain a copy for your records. Although the authorities may be limited in what they can do (especially if your identity is stolen by criminals overseas), the report creates a paper trail that could be useful in the future to help to resolve the matter and possibly track down the person responsible.
File a report with the FTC
The FTC is a government agency with experience compiling information on cases of identity theft. While it can’t press criminal charges, law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may use its data to track down the identity thieves.
Freeze your credit
A credit freeze will prevent fraudulent loans and new credit cards from being opened in your name. It also cuts off access to your credit report and prevents credit bureaus from sharing your information with anyone else. Although you’ll need to contact each bureau individually to request a credit freeze, the process is free, and you can lift it at any time.
Contact your financial institutions and credit card companies
Don’t wait to notify financial institutions like your bank or credit card companies – you should notify all of them, not just the ones where you noticed suspicious activity. You may also want to proactively reach out to other companies and agencies such as the IRS, for example, to prevent further fraudulent use of your information.
In the case of account takeovers, your credit or debit card may be compromised, but the thieves may not have gained access to your personal information. Closing your accounts and opening new ones is a best practice to ensure you’re no longer associated with a compromised account.
Keep in mind, if you used a compromised card to book travel, you should contact the vendors (such as airlines or hotels) to determine next steps before you cancel the card. This will ensure your accommodations are not accidentally canceled or disrupted while your identity theft is being handled.
Change passwords and tighten security on your accounts
Just like a leaky faucet can have many causes, tracking down how identity theft occurred could take time. That’s why it’s essential to tighten up your all-around security as soon as you can.
Review and update passwords on any accounts that may contain sensitive information like your bank, retirement and credit card account numbers. Watch for alerts about password resets, unrecognized transactions and unsolicited login push notifications. These can help you track down the leak.
Delete personal information such as addresses and phone numbers from social media accounts and other websites. Whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication on your accounts, requiring both a password and a code to be delivered via email, text or phone for access.
Review your credit reports
You’re entitled to at least one free credit report from each credit agency each year by law. Now is the time to use one. (Request yours at AnnualCreditReport.com). Check for suspicious or unfamiliar accounts, and after you’ve returned from vacation, keep an eye out for any other red flags. Unfortunately, identity theft often isn’t an isolated incident. Once your personal information has been stolen it can be circulated and sold on the dark web. A vigilant eye and cybersecurity best practices can help you spot any future breaches.
Check recent transactions
After you scan your credit reports, look at all your financial accounts and transaction statements for suspicious charges. Don’t forget about dormant and infrequently used accounts too. Those can often be a target for fraud.
If you find unauthorized transactions on your credit card and bank statements, call the credit card company or financial institution to report them and request a freeze, hold or closure of the account. When in touch with your bank or credit card company, talk to them about how to best avoid further unauthorized activity.
In some cases, that could involve closing and reopening new accounts (even those that haven’t been compromised). It might seem like an unusual step, but it can be an important preventative measure against identity theft problems down the road.
Set up a mail hold
Cybercrime might be grabbing all of the headlines, but mail theft can still be an easy way for thieves to steal your identity. It’s always good practice to set up a mail hold when you’re traveling for an extended period. So, if you didn’t do it before your trip, you should contact the United States Postal Service (USPS). Sometimes, after a thief gains access to your accounts they will reroute your mail with new card and account numbers. If you fill out a request to hold mail service through the USPS website, though, you can potentially stop all these issues in their tracks.
How to prevent identity theft while traveling
Because you’re away from home, spending in new locations and (probably) spending more than usual, traveling presents unique opportunities for identity fraud. But there are preventative steps you can take to protect yourself.
For extra protection, you might want to consider credit monitoring or identity theft protection services like LifeLock or IdentityForce, especially if you travel extensively. These services monitor your credit reports and financial accounts for suspicious activity and send you alerts whenever a new account is opened.
Other excellent travel identity theft tips? Don’t use public Wi-Fi. You never know who might be lurking on these open channels, so opt for an encrypted cellular connection instead. If you have access to a safe where you’re staying, lock up your passport, driver’s license and other essential documents. And prevent identity theft with our before-you-go financial safety checklist.
Keep calm and carry on
Your vacation should be a time to relax and unwind, not untangle the impact of identity theft. By staying aware and prepared and knowing what steps to take should the worst happen, you can act quickly and get back to your break.
Get back to relaxing by having Ally Bank as a travel partner.