Don’t let what happened to Mary happen to you: Essential travel safety tips
Jul 23, 2023, 5:45 AM
My friend Mary was on vacation in Rome with her 14-year-old daughter. During their visit, they stopped to take some selfies. Spotting their struggle to fit themselves and the grandeur of the backdrop in the frame, a seemingly kind stranger — a man in his 30s — offered to take their picture.
Mary punched in her PIN to unlock her iPhone and handed it over. To her absolute horror, this supposed Good Samaritan turned out to be a thief. He snatched her phone and ran away, leaving Mary and her daughter dumbstruck. Her iPhone was gone, and the thief had her PIN.
That’s far from the only way a cybercriminal or in-real-life schemer can ruin your trip. Before you board the plane or hop in the car, read these tips to stay safe on your next vacation.
1. Don’t post pics of your boarding pass or other travel docs
You’re excited, waiting for the plane. What’s the harm in posting a pic of your boarding pass? A whole lot. Boarding passes display your full legal name, ticket number and passenger name record. That six-digit code plus your last name gives anyone access to your booking information online.
The same goes for your license, passport, visa or other identification documents. Thieves keep an eye out for any detail they can use.
Keep these photos on your phone before vacation — scroll to No. 3. You’ll thank me if something goes missing!
2. Watch what you do on public Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi at the airport, hotel, or cafe is tempting (who wants to pay?), but it’s not always safe. A savvy cybercriminal can use open networks to intercept your data. Rule No 1: Never use a public connection to do your online banking, access files with sensitive info or log into important accounts.
If you do need to do those things, switch on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or your phone’s hotspot.
3. Keep an air of mystery
Sharing your live location with your pals on social media is a glaring invitation: My house is empty! In a perfect world, you’d wait to post vacation pics and updates until after you get home. If you can’t wait, the least you can do is ensure all your profiles are private. Just know your posts can still spread beyond those you trust, no matter your settings.
4. Keep your accommodations private
Just like broadcasting your flight info, you should hold the name or location of your hotel or Airbnb close to the chest, too. A creep could do a lot with that info in the wrong hands. If you must share, stick with a city or general region. Wait to show off your new favorite hotel when you get home.
5. Double-check your location settings
Some social media apps automatically tag your location in pictures, check-ins or updates. Even if you’re careful about what you post, social media sites can spill the beans without you realizing it. Double-check your posts to make sure auto-location tags aren’t enabled. If they are, you can adjust that in your settings or remove it on each post.
Who (or what) else are you sharing your location with? Check your settings now.
6. The details are private, too
Posting a day-by-day breakdown of your trip is serious ammo in the wrong hands. If you tell the world you’ll be out snorkeling Saturday, a criminal knows, “Score! The hotel is empty!”
7. Be wary of public charging stations
A public charging station feels like a godsend when your battery is dying, and you don’t have anywhere to plug in, but they are shockingly easy to tamper with. With just a USB cord, a cybercriminal can install malware or suck data from every device that plugs in to charge.
That’s why you should carry your portable battery bank. It won’t take up much room in your bag, and you’ll be glad you have it if your charge gets low.
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8. Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds a level of security by requiring a second way to identify that it’s you looking to access an account, beyond just the password. Usually, it’s a code sent via email/SMS or to another device. Yes, it adds an extra step, but it might keep out hackers if your password is compromised.
9. Be picky where you use a credit card
They might seem relatively low-tech compared to smarter tools, but card skimmers aren’t unheard of. These tiny devices attach to card readers in stores, on ATMs or at outdoor payment locations — and collect all your card info.
Don’t use your credit card just anywhere. ATMs and gas stations in rural areas with no security cameras are big targets. Stick to cash or your phone’s built-in payment options if you get a strange feeling.
Not sure how? Here’s your guide to paying with your smartphone.
10. Keep an eye on your tech
You’re working at a cafe in your favorite city, far from home. Packing everything up to go to the bathroom or get a new latte is annoying. Should you? Absolutely.
Even a few seconds is enough for someone to swipe your device. In a few minutes, someone can install spyware or other malicious software you’ll never know is there.
The good news if your phone goes missing: You can wipe it remotely. Take steps now to make sure yours is ready in case the worst happens.
Keep your tech-know going
My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.
Plus, a smartphone helper that isn’t Siri or Google. Fancy riding a motorcycle like the Terminator? BMW’s new smart glasses could make this a reality. Check out six ways to make money with your car and ensure you get the best Starlink coverage.
Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”
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