Almost 50 million travelers are expected to hit the road or take to the skies this holiday weekend, AAA predicts.
But can you guess who else is coming along for the ride? hackers.
While it’s vacation time for many, cybercriminals work diligently to capture and exploit your sensitive information.
These malicious attempts may have started at the planning stage (booking through fake rental and hotel sites), when you’re on the road (picking up your information from free internet at the airport or pickpocketing at gas stations) or when you’ve reached your destination (data breaches at tourist shops or pay for non-existent excursions).
“Unfortunately, there are several travel-related risks to be aware of, ranging from lodging scams to compromising your data over public Wi-Fi networks, allowing cybercriminals to intercept your connection and gain access to sensitive financial information,” warns. Kelly Merrymanpresident and chief operations officer at Auraa leading digital security company.
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“Whether travelers are preparing for a road trip or packing hand luggage for a flight, they need to be aware that fraudsters are on the prowl and taking advantage of travelers through various scam tactics,” confirms. Paul Fabara, Chief Risk Officer at Visa. “And they’re getting more sophisticated. These scams can involve fake travel agencies and even fraudulent airline websites.”
According to the FTC, consumers lost more than $95 million to holiday and travel scams in 2021 – and then travel was lighter due to the pandemic.
To ensure a smooth travel experience this holiday weekend, the experts recommend the following:
Use trusted, reputable websites
For online transactions – before or during your trip – always use sites whose URLs start with “https” instead of “http”, as the “s” stands for safe.
“Be sure to also book air travel and accommodations directly with the airline, hotel, or through a site you recognize,” suggests Merryman. “Beware of individuals renting out their homes through Facebook or other social media.”
Rely on a related note on credit cards rather than debit cards. “If you can, make all purchases with a credit card, as they offer much more protection than debit cards,” Merryman adds. “Other ways to stay vigilant include notifying your bank about travel plans and regularly checking your credit card statements for suspicious activity.”
Fabara says it’s also a good idea to sign up for free text notifications when a “transaction exceeds a preset amount or when unusual card activity is detected.” You can contact your card issuer for more information.
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Shop in stores instead of online
In the store, using a payment card with a chip or a contactless symbol on it protects your card details from theft in the event of a data breach, Fabara confirms, using encryption technology called ‘tokenization’. This reduces the risk of fraud, as store or restaurant staff will never see your card number.
If you notice that your card has been lost or stolen, please contact your card issuer immediately to report it. Fabara also suggests updating your credentials “whether it was your actual card that was stolen or just your account number, such as changing your username, password and PIN to prevent further fraud.”
Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots
Merryman warns travelers against using free wireless internet in places such as coffee shops, hotel lobbies and airport lounges.
“Hackers can hack into a router, spy on a Wi-Fi connection, and even eavesdrop on conversations to steal personal information like credit card information, passwords for your social media accounts, and compromise your online bank accounts,” she says.
If you use your laptop on the go, consider creating a personal hotspot using your smartphone’s cellular connection. Note, however, that this counts toward your cell phone data plan and when researching roaming charges outside the US
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If you absolutely must use free public wifi, at least run VPN (Virtual Private Network) software browse anonymously. A browser’s “Private” or “Incognito” mode is not the same, as they only clear your history and cookies when you close the browser session; what you do while online can still be seen by your service provider, advertisers and malicious types.
Also update security software and your operating system before shopping on your computer, tablet or phone, [as] staying up-to-date helps patch known vulnerabilities,” Fabara added.
But it is recommended that you do not enter personal information, such as passwords and usernames, and withstand financial transactions, such as online shopping, day trading, or paying bills, until you are on a secure network.
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Other Cyber Safe Travel Tips
Keep digital copies of important documents † Store digital versions of important documents in a secure cloud app that you can access on your smartphone, and make sure your device is protected with a complex passcode or facial recognition.
Watch out for over-the-shoulder snoopers. Consider a “Privacy Shield” (from $15) on your laptop to avoid curious onlookers. Unless they are directly in front of your screen, where you sit, it will look black, as if the screen is turned off. You buy one based on the make and model of the laptop and the screen size, such as 11, 13, 14 or 17 inches.
Do not disclose your whereabouts on social media. While it may be tempting to post vacation photos right now, remember that these posts also show that your home is currently vacant. Instead, wait until you get home, just to be careful.
Stay away from communal PCs. Using a shared computer in a hotel’s business center or airport lounge is not ideal, as cybercriminals can secretly install software to record your typed words (including passwords). If you must, remember to log out of your online activities (such as webmail service or social media account) before you leave and reboot the machine.
Also avoid public printers. Also, don’t use public printers in a hotel’s business center, especially if it involves sensitive financial or work documents, as they can also be hacked. And what about that print job you think didn’t work? It can spit out those papers after you’re gone.