Taking a summer vacation? Identity thieves aren't

by: Brenda Mohney

Pack the car, pack the kids, kennel the dogs, double check reservations. Everything set? Yes, for you and for the identity thief ready to take advantage of your summer vacation.

Going on a summer vacation is supposed to be one of the highlights of the year. We save for it, plan for it and anticipate it all year long. Unfortunately, so do identity thieves.

Summer vacations broaden the horizons for identity thieves. Most people aren't thinking about identity theft when going on their anticipated, stress-relieving summer vacation.

A mailbox packed with the week's mail can be an invitation to identity theft criminals. A lost wallet can be an identity theft criminals dream!

Planning

A few simple plans can minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

  • Before embarking on your dream vacation, have your mail put on hold with the post office for the time you are going to be away. A mailbox jam packed with credit card offers is just screaming 'come and get me'. Not to mention, it sends a signal to potential burglars that your house is lonely and vacant for the week.

  • Only take the most vital cards with you. Leave the rest of your cards home locked in a safe or in your safety deposit box. You only want to take the least amount of personal identification with you as possible.

  • While on vacation, keep a list of the purchases you make to compare with your credit card statements and credit report. Trying to remember all the purchase you made can be difficult, unless you have a photographic memory.

  • If you haven't already memorized your pin number, now is a good time to do it. Be observant for 'shoulder surfers' when performing transactions at ATM machines.

  • If using internet cafés, only use them to keep in touch with friends and family members, don't use them to conduct banking, bill paying, or other types of transactions that require your sensitive information. It would be a good idea to use a temporary email set up for this purpose only.

  • If you lose your wallet or have it stolen, contact the fraud department at your credit card company immediately. Contact your banking institution if your wallet or pocketbook contained your checkbook.

Laptops

If you just can't live without your laptop and are planning to take it with you, you should take extra precautions to ensure your system's safety while away.

  • Make sure you have a physical lock on your system or have your system locked in the hotel's safe and be sure to get a receipt.

  • Don't perform sensitive transactions at your hotel.

  • Back up your information before you leave, and remove as much information as you possibly can from your system.

  • If using Windows NT/2000/XP, make sure you are using the NTFS file system instead of the FAT or FAT32 file system which doesn't support file level security.

  • Set a strong BIOS password on your system.

  • Make sure the 'Guest Account' is disabled on your system.

  • You should think of renaming your Administrator account to something non-descriptive. This won't deter the seasoned hacker, but it will make their job a bit more difficult.

  • You can also create a dummy administrator account named 'Administrator' or 'Admin' and give it no privileges. Give this account an extremely long and difficult password, using more than ten characters. Enable auditing on this account so you will know if it has been tampered with.

  • Prevent the last logged in user from being displayed when starting your system by using the Group Policy security template. More information can be obtained at Microsoft's site.

  • Consider using tracking software have your system 'call home' if it has been stolen. Some companies offering tracking software are CompuTrace, Stealth Signal, and ZTrace.

Your precautions don't end once your vacation has come to an end and you are safely tucked away back home.

Make sure you monitor your credit card statements and your credit report for transactions that you have authorized while on vacation. Unauthorized or unfamiliar purchases should send up a red flag that your personal information may have been compromised. Make sure you compare your statements with your list of transactions.

Most of all, enjoy your vacation and don't let identity thieves ruin it for you.

About The Author:
Brenda Mohney - Founder of Identity Theft Security, a site dedicated to providing tools and tips to help people protect their identities. She is also founder of Azure Web Solutions, a web development company providing web solutions to small businesses. Brenda currently works as a web developer at Penn State York.