Whether you’re a frequent traveler for business or are booking your flight, reserving a hotel room and getting ready for a well-deserved vacation, there are some precautions you need to know about before you head out on your next trip.
If you’re packing a smartphone, laptop, smartwatch or tablet, then the risks increase significantly. And – let’s face it – almost everyone travels with some type of gadget these days. Here are three common mistakes you should avoid while traveling.
1. Not knowing your rights
The rules for international travel have become more stringent over the past several years. Since 9/11, security measures have been enhanced in the name of safety. For example, in the past, U.S. citizens didn’t need a passport to visit Mexico or Canada and now they do.
Now, some people entering the U.S. are being asked to hand over their gadgets. Does this safety measure go too far?
Immigration Attorney Mana Yegani said U.S. border patrol agents are asking people to hand over their gadgets before entering the country. They are doing this so they can access the travelers’ online accounts including Facebook, text messages and bank information.
As far as U.S. law goes, courts have ruled in the past that suspects can be required to unlock their phones without violating the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. However, they do not have to give them their passcodes because they can be used against them maliciously.
What you must do before international travel: The most important thing before leaving or entering the country is knowing your rights. These rights can vary for each traveler, depending on the type of visa they have.
Yegani is urging people to speak with an attorney before traveling so you know exactly what your rights are. Also, if you are detained by an agent while entering the U.S., you should tell them that you would like to speak to a lawyer.
2. Trusting public Wi-Fi
When you travel, it’s tempting to use the public Wi-Fi network at the airport, coffee shops and other venues, or even the guest login provided for your hotel room. But you probably shouldn’t. Public Wi-Fi is open to everyone, which makes it a prime target for hackers. And every device is susceptible, no matter if it’s your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
For that reason, you need to be careful whenever you join a public network. If you must use public Wi-Fi, then use these tips to protect yourself:
- Ask for the network name: Just because a public Wi-Fi network pops up and asks if you want to join, doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. If you’re at a coffee shop, hotel, or another place of business, ask an employee for the specific name of their Wi-Fi network. Scammers will sometimes create networks called “Coffee Shop” or “Hotel Guest” to make you believe you’re connecting to the real thing when, actually, you’re not.
- Be skeptical of links: Scammers are skilled at making links seem enticing so you’ll fall for their trick, but there are some signs that should make you think twice before you click. First, if something makes an outrageous claim or sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not legitimate. Second, if you’re prompted to download something, you probably should avoid it. Here’s a little trick: To see what’s hiding behind a hyperlink, see what shows up in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen when you hover your mouse over it.
- Avoid certain websites: Unless you’re planning to do some general web surfing, it’s probably best to avoid public Wi-Fi altogether. When using public Wi-Fi, always assume that somebody out there is watching. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it requires a username and password to log in, you should only access that site from your own private network.
- Stay encrypted: When you do connect to public networks, encrypted data is essential to your online security. However, you can’t always trust that the network is encrypting that data for you. Visiting SSL sites, or websites that begin with the letters H-T-T-P-S means that the data exchanged is being encrypted. But you still may want to take additional precautions.
- Use VPNs: You might not realize that it’s easy to create your own private network. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, can be created wherever you go if you have the right software. There are several apps that create VPNs, as well as online security software.
- Use online security software: Security software offers security for your computer, smartphone and tablet so that you’re covered no matter which device you’re using. This coverage includes anti-phishing technology, Wi-Fi security alerts, webcam protection, secure shopping and banking, malware detection, and more.
3. Swiping your debit card
Traveling isn’t the only time when it’s risky to use a debit card that’s tied to your bank account. There are many places you visit regularly that fall victim to data breaches, credit card skimmers and other forms of fraud. Click here to see the three worst places you can swipe your card.
If you absolutely must use your debit card while you’re out and about, be sure to implement these best practices:
- Shield yourself: When you’re typing in your PIN number, block your typing from view with your other hand.
- Use EMV cards: Don’t use debit or credit cards with the black strip on the back. The credit card industry is switching over to EMV chip cards because the black magnetic strips are so easy for criminals to steal. For security, EMV chip cards don’t store your personal information. Instead, they create a unique transaction ID each time you use them. Even if a criminal finds that transaction ID, it can’t be used again.
- Use a digital wallet: Just like EMV cards, digital wallets like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay create unique transaction codes. They don’t store your personal information. If you’re in a store that accepts these increasingly popular digital wallets, use them.
- Use a low-balance card: Before you head out, you may want to look into a pre-paid credit card, or even just setting up a separate debit card account where you can keep a small balance. That way, if the card happens to get lost or stolen, the thieves won’t gain access to your primary bank account.
- Protect your wallet’s contents: If you’re taking credit cards that have a magnetic strip, then you’ll need to protect those cards from RFID readers. To work, RFID readers must be within a few feet of you; however, you just never know who’s standing next to you in line at Disneyland or Starbucks.
Bonus: Using Bluetooth in your rental
To get around town it might be easiest to rent a car, and most of these rentals are newer car models. Because of this, they often come with all the bells and whistles – and sometimes that includes Bluetooth capabilities.
Syncing your smartphone up with your rental’s system is a tempting idea. It makes it easy to give voice commands for your GPS, which will help you navigate unexplored cities, find places to eat and even make hands-free calls.
But keep this in mind: When you connect to a car with Bluetooth, the car stores your phone number to make it easier to connect later. It also stores your call logs, and possibly even your contacts. This isn’t something you want sitting around for the next renter.
If you do sync your smartphone to your rental’s Bluetooth system, then be sure to wipe the history when your trip is over. Just go into the settings (it will vary for every car model) and delete your smartphone from the list of previously paired Bluetooth gadgets. That should wipe your call log and contacts as well. If it doesn’t, look for an option to clear user data or do a factory reset. Talk to the employees at the car rental place if you can’t find these options.
If you used the car’s navigation system to get around, be sure to go in and clear your location history. You don’t want the next person knowing where you’ve gone.
Aside from privacy concerns, there’s a security concern, too. We know that cars can be hacked, and as they get more advanced, the chance that a car can get infected with a virus increases. If the car’s system was compromised by a hacker or previous renter, hooking up your phone would give a hacker access to everything on it.
Save your data while traveling with these easy setting changes
If you’re like most people, you can’t imagine your everyday life without your smartphone. Don’t feel guilty about that, but do be careful. If you use your phone overseas, Wi-Fi isn’t always free and can drive up your data. Before you head out on your trip, you need to follow these four steps to make sure you don’t come home to a shocking cellphone bill.