We've been cautioned. We've been warned. We know enough to keep anti-virus software up-to-date on our computers. We know to shred our financial documents to keep them out of the hands of the "bad guys" and not to click on links sent to us by strangers. Even our banks and credit card companies have built advertising campaigns around protecting us from identity theft. The danger has, indeed, become as much a part of contemporary life as the old "don't take candy from a stranger" was when we were younger.
Most of us are aware of and follow the precautions to avoid the risk of identity theft, but few of us have thought of the added risk we face when we are traveling. It's so easy to think of nothing when dreaming about a cruise vacation but the exhilaration of a week or so away from the daily grind and forget that there are "bad guys" lurking everywhere. Todd Davis, a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist who works with the President's ID Theft Task Force, knows this and has offered some important tips and useful advice to follow while we are on the road (or the high seas).
Fraud alerts first: Before leaving home, place fraud alerts with the credit bureaus to put a shield in place that would guard against someone using your personal information. Fraud alerts will let you know if someone is trying to open a new line of credit in your name.
Watch how you label: When putting information on your luggage tags, limit what you provide. The airlines ask for name, address and phone number, but just give your first initial and phone number (a cell number is best if you have one). If your luggage is lost, you'll have to go fill out paperwork giving your contact information before the airlines will bring the found bags to you.
Don't leave important items in your car: Very often people leave their important documents in the car parked at the airport or at the hotel thinking that the documents are safe. Clearly your documents will be as safe as your car might be. And have you seen the statistics on stolen or vandalized cars lately? Your documents are safer with you than left behind in an unattended vehicle.
Never leave your personal documents unsecured in a hotel room: Numerous hotel employees -- in addition to housekeeping -- can gain access to your room. This rule especially applies to overseas travel where certain passports may be valuable on the black market. If you're not going to take personal items with you, make sure to lock them in the in-room safe.
Don't place valuable information on computers: While it's nearly impossible to limit the personal information you have on your work or personal laptop, make every effort. Laptops can be stolen or hacked into while you're traveling or using them in public places, leaving your sensitive information vulnerable.
Few cards will do: Don't carry all your personal information with you when you travel. Limit yourself to only a few necessary credit cards and identification documents. Should your wallet or bag get stolen, you'll have less to lose and the thief will have the least possible information about you.
Watch who is watching: Beware of your surroundings and the eyes looking over your shoulders when you use your secret codes to access cash at ATMs, pay with a debit card at stores where you have to enter a PIN, access your personal or business laptop computer in public areas, send e-mails, or access your voicemails. Cover your hand when typing the secret code. Don't be embarrassed -- it's better to be safe than sorry.
Keep documents with you: Never place your personal and travel documents in a piece of luggage that you intend to check at the airport. Once you do that, you have lost control over the security of your personal documents. Always carry important documents on you.
Only use secure wireless networks: We have seen news reports of highly organized bands of identity thieves who set up networks at airports for the sole purpose of snagging personal information from unsuspecting laptop users. If you log on and you see "unsecured ad-hoc network," immediately log out. Some airports have free Wi-Fi hotspots, but they are clearly labeled as such, both in the physical location and on the network page of your laptop. Make sure to use that connection; the words "unsecured" and "ad-hoc" are huge red flags to be avoided at all costs. This advice applies not only to airports but to hotels, docked cruise ships or any other location where you could access an unsecured network.
Finally, this is one that we'd never have thought of on our own, maybe because we just aren't cynical enough for it to have registered:
Watch your belongings on the plane: To ensure travel security by air, always place your personal belongings in an overhead compartment on the opposite side of the aisle in which you are sitting. This way, you can detect any unauthorized search and theft of your personal items during the flight. In any full flight, people reorganize the overhead compartments to make room for their own items and someone may go through your bags or even steal your items while pretending to be looking for extra space.
While we don't want to unnecessarily frighten anyone, it's true that being vigilant will help to ensure a safe and happy trip. Follow these steps and a case of identity theft won't tarnish the memories of your otherwise fun and relaxing holiday.
--by Cruise Critic contributor Jana Jones, who has also written for a variety of publications, including Vacation Agent, UK's Travel Holidays and Ocean Drive Magazine.