There’s no doubt the Internet has made managing our finances extremely convenient.
We can now carry out our banking and monitor our investments from a bar in Belgium, a beach in Belize or a bathroom in Bali.
The flip side of that convenience, however, is an increased risk of being scammed. Even when we’re at home, we have to watch out for identity theft, hacking, phishing, malware and spyware. When we travel, we need to be even more vigilant.
With many people heading out of the country for spring break, here are seven tips to make sure you remember your trips for all the right reasons.
Only take what is absolutely essential - The less you take on trips, the less risk there is of someone taking advantage of you. While you may be reluctant to remain offline while travelling, be ruthless in what you can leave behind. Do you absolutely need your laptop as well as your phone?
We often carry cards and documents with us when at home that we really don’t need elsewhere, so be certain about what you need to take with you. Leave your SIN card at home. Only take the credit/debit cards you know you’ll need.
Update your devices and systems - If your phone, tablet or laptop hasn’t had a recent update, make sure you fix that before you travel. Up-to-date browsers and applications can greatly improve your online security. Make sure all passwords are complex and difficult to guess. When you get back home, consider changing passwords in case someone managed to hack into yours while you were away.
Keep documents, devices and cards extra safe - Keep all your documents, such as passports, driver’s licences and credit cards, as well as devices, locked up in your hotel room safe. Don’t carry around anything valuable whenever you don’t need it.
Wallets can be easily pickpocketed, and the contents used for identity theft. Consider carrying cards and phones in a travel pouch instead.
Avoid public Wi-Fi – While my kids might disagree with me here, this can be an issue particularly if you’re abroad and don’t have a data plan you can use in that country. However, these networks are rarely secure, so your information can be hacked when you use them. You should never access sensitive, banking or any financial information when on public Wi-Fi.
Having a virtual private network (VPN) can help you stay safe when online by encrypting your Internet connection. Some Canadian VPN providers allow you use their services for just a month (and start from just $12.99). Search for “one-time Canadian VPN for travelling” to find available options.
Pay with cash or credit card - Paying with cash reduces your chances of your bank card details being stolen. Obviously, you then run the risk of having your cash stolen, so keep it in a safe place (like your newly acquired travel pouch).
If you are going to use a card, steer clear of using your debit card: credit cards tend to offer greater financial protection. Only use ATMs inside reputable banks and don’t let restaurant waiting staff take your card away for payment: go with them or insist you pay at your table. Using the chip reader for payment whenever possible is safer than swiping.
Be extra protective of your cell phone - Cell phones now carry a huge amount of sensitive information and access to banking and other financial apps. Losing your cell phone can put you at risk of fraud and identity theft. Make sure it’s difficult to access your phone, with a hard-to-guess password or access via fingerprint or facial recognition.
It can be a wise move to delete any financial apps you have on your phone and reinstall them after your trip. Turn off Bluetooth whenever you can, as this can be an added security threat. Configure and turn on your device’s “find my device/phone” feature.
When installing applications, opt into multi-factor authentication (MFA) and/or facial or fingerprint technology, when available. This provides an added layer of protection if your device is lost or stolen.
Avoid social media - It’s always tempting to make your friends back home envious by posting photos of the beach you’re sitting on or the pina colada you’re sipping. However, if you’re abroad, this would normally require you to use public Wi-Fi (see above) and open you up to potential hacking.
Also, identity thieves might use your information while you’re away, making it harder for you and your bank to minimize the damage. Plus, why would you want the world and its dog (and any thieves that may be out there) to know that your house is empty? While it may not be as much fun, it is far safer to wait until you’re home before posting images from your trip.
What to do if you suspect fraud while away
If your cards are stolen while you’re away, contact your credit card company immediately and get them to block your card. It can also be beneficial to contact credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion, so fraudulent activity is noted and doesn’t affect your credit score.
If your phone is stolen and you have financial apps on them that can be accessed, contact the financial institutions concerned.
Taking a few extra precautions before and during your trip can save a lot of headaches. Safe travels.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.