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10 Tips for Protecting Your Identity While You Travel

Pickpocketing can mean disaster when crucial personal information is linked to your phone. Protect your identity on the road with these 10 handy tips.

Getting your stuff stolen spoils a trip like little else. A few years ago, a stolen phone or hacked social media account might have meant losing your contacts or even your photos. Nowadays, we use online services for everything from our banking to our credit cards. These make it easier than ever to deal with life admin on the road—but also mean getting your pockets picked or your password hacked can have disastrous new consequences. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the risk, so if the worst does happen, all that’s been stolen is a device—not your identity.

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PHOTO: pim pic / Shutterstock
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Install an Anti-Theft App

Anti-theft apps offer you some ingenious ways of protecting and even recovering your stolen device. Android and Apple devices have a number of built-in anti-theft options allowing you to do things like track, lock and wipe your device remotely. There’s also a growing range of free and paid-for apps offering even more creative ways of protecting your device, like making it ring loudly, messaging you when the SIM card is changed, or even attempting to photograph the thief. The downside is that thieves can avoid many of these features by just turning the phone off, but if you’ve left it somewhere by accident this can be a life-saver.

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PHOTO: dennizn / Shutterstock
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Turn on Two-Step Verification

Two-step verification is a feature that requires you to enter a code sent to your phone when you log into online services from a new device. It’s a handy extra layer of security available on many major services including Facebook and Gmail. The advantage here is that would-be hackers can’t get into your account unless they also have your phone. That might not be much comfort if they’ve stolen your phone, but it protects you from nasties such as keyloggers—software or devices that record the keys being pressed on a computer and can be used to figure out passwords. Make sure your phone works in the country you’re going to before setting this up!

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PHOTO: Mario Lopes/ Shutterstock
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Be Careful With USB Sticks

USB sticks come in handy for tasks like printing boarding passes and transferring your photos. Unfortunately, they’re also a great way of spreading viruses, and you may get it back with a security risk—or simply corrupted and blank. Whether it’s a printing shop or your hostel, if you’re going to hand your pen drive over to somebody, make sure you have everything backed up and there’s nothing sensitive on there unless you really need it. Install a good virus scanner on your laptop to protect you just in case you do pick up a virus.

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PHOTO: YanLev/ Shutterstock
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Don’t Access Sensitive Sites on Public Computers

When it comes to computers, hostel and internet cafe PCs are a bit like the wild west: the rules are flexible and you should always be on your guard. With a steady stream of travelers paying for the next leg of their journey online, the computers in your accommodation can make an attractive target for crooks looking to steal your details. More innocently, not everyone is savvy online. You might find a previous guest has clicked on a dodgy link and downloaded a virus without even realizing. Either way, avoid logging into important services such as online banking on public computers—especially if the computer has a cute feature that leaves a trail of sparkles behind the mouse cursor and is so slow it seems to be powered by hamsters.

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PHOTO: Jo karen / Shutterstock
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Use a Password Manager

You’ve already heard that you shouldn’t have the same password for multiple services. Still, when you’re juggling multiple social media, e-mail, and online shopping accounts, it can be tempting to get lazy. Password managers such as LastPass are dedicated services for storing and managing your passwords, making it easier to have different, strong passwords. That means if one site gets compromised, you don’t lose access to the lot.

Services like LastPass can generate one-time passwords for when you really need to access something on a computer you’d rather not use. The advantage is that anyone trying to steal your details will find the password you entered doesn’t work the second time around. The plethora of features can take some getting used to, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the service before you travel. The other obvious downside is that you have to be extra careful with the regular password to your password manager!

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PHOTO: Wright Studio / Shutterstock
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Familiarize Yourself With the Security Settings

Did you know that Gmail and Facebook allow you to see a list of recent account activity and sign out all other web sessions? If you think someone else might be using your account, this is a great way to check. If you’re in Laos and your account’s being used in Ecuador, it’s probably time to change your password.

Major service providers will often have a highly customizable settings menu allowing you to do things like review which apps have access to your account, see when your password was last changed, and add account recovery information. This last one is really important: if your recovery e-mail is your forgotten Hotmail account from when you were 13, it might not be much use! Get to grips with what settings are available, so if you think something’s wrong, you know exactly where to look to check.

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PHOTO: Maksym Azovtsev/ Shutterstock
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Don’t Let Other People Use Your Laptop

You’ll probably meet a lot of people on your travels who don’t know the first thing about responsible internet use. You might know not to click a link from an unknown sender that says “OMG is that you in this photo??!?” but they might not. It’s best not to let anyone you don’t know use your laptop, even if it’s just to check their messages—they probably don’t have bad intentions, but even an innocent screw-up could cause you major cybersecurity problems.

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PHOTO: GOLFX / Shutterstock
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Leave Your Devices in the Locker

Tempting as it is to Instagram every last greasy tray of street food, there are places where getting your phone out just isn’t a good idea. Markets are a good example: when you want to discover the character of a new place, it’s hard to beat the heady mix of unknown local foods and the frenetic energy of the throng. However, it’s all too easy to get your pockets picked, especially when you stand out as a tourist. Ask the locals how safe places are before you go. The odds are, if they don’t take their phone when they go, you probably shouldn’t either. Check to see if your accommodation has a safe or locker where you can leave it—besides, it’ll do you some good to disconnect for the afternoon.

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PHOTO: mrmohock / Shutterstock
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Make Note of What’s on Your Phone

If the worst does happen and your devices get stolen, you’ll want to log them out of everything containing your personal details, fast. To do that, you need to know what they had access to in the first place. Make a list of services you use on your phone—remember it’s not just a question of banking and e-mails, but also sites that might contain your card details, like eBay, Hostelworld, and PayPal.

The chances of thieves getting into your accounts are drastically reduced if you have a password or PIN on your phone. If you don’t have some kind of password on your phone, you should set one up right now!

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PHOTO: Pe3k/ Shutterstock
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Buy a Cheap Phone You Don’t Mind Losing!

No matter how many anti-theft apps you install or how religiously you avoid taking your phone to the market, things can go wrong. If you’re really paranoid about your smartphone, the simplest solution is to buy a cheap travel phone you can afford to lose. If you’re sporting a classic Nokia brick, it’s probably incapable of connecting with your bank in the first place. Besides, you’ll probably find the thieves have nicer phones than you do.