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Oliver: Keep identity safe when hitting the road

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 11:05 p.m. CDT

As the summer travel season gets into full swing, no doubt many of us are making plans to hit the road or take to the air.

In the midst of all the planning, there always are a few details that seem to escape our notice. Or mine, at least.

That’s why I’m such a fan of lists. They keep me on track and lessen the likelihood I’ll have to buy something from a drugstore at my destination.

Many of us also run down our mental checklist as we’re heading out the door: Is the coffeemaker turned off? Did I remember to switch off all the stove burners? Is there enough food in the cat’s bowl until my friend arrives to feed her?

The Better Business Bureau also likes lists and wants everyone have a safe and enjoyable summer vacation. So the organization is reminding travelers they need to stay on guard against identity theft.

We’ve probably all heard the admonition about paying attention to our surroundings and putting our wallets and travel papers in a place inaccessible to pickpockets. That’s especially smart when riding public transportation or when in public areas.

However, here are a few more ways to protect your identity:

• Don’t announce your vacation plans on social media. Your home could be targeted for a burglary while you’re away. Sure, your friends aren’t thieves, but do you know every one of their “friends”?

• Put your mail and newspaper on hold while you’re gone, or have a friend bring them in. An overflowing mailbox can be tempting for identity thieves who want your personal information. And a stack of newspapers is a sure sign you aren’t home.

• Take unnecessary documents that have personal information on them out of your wallet and leave them at home. Take only what you expect to use.

• Set up a travel alert for your credit card account. Also consider putting a credit freeze on your accounts to prevent accounts from being opened while you’re away.

• Leave your computer at home. If you must bring it along, update the anti-virus or anti-spyware programs, and avoid using public Wi-Fi networks to access financial accounts. Also, never leave your computer unattended in a public place.

• Use only bank ATMs and avoid those in convenience stores and in crowded areas. They often are not well-secured and thieves can look over your shoulder. Protect PIN pads when using debit cards.

• Create a password for your cellphone, and consider downloading a GPS locator to use in case your phone is lost or stolen.

• Use only your last name and a phone number on your luggage tags.

• Tear up or shred boarding passes before you throw them away. The personal information on them can be used by identity thieves.

More tips can be found on the Better Business Bureau website at www.bbb.org.

A little common sense and a bit of prevention can be all it takes to ward off a lot of aggravation.

Here’s to a safe and secure vacation season.

Happy trails.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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