When it comes to traveling, the world is your oyster, especially with one of the best airline credit cards! But with frequent travel, there are some dangers that cannot be overlooked when it comes to protecting our personal information. And children (especially teenagers) are even more at risk.
Even seemingly harmless activities, like posting to Snapchat or using an ATM, can expose anyone to identity theft. So it’s important to keep a close eye on your own data, and even more so your children’s.
In fact, a new law recently passed making it FREE to check a child’s credit report. It’s a great way to see if their identity may have been compromised, and is a good reminder that everyone in your family can be put at risk of having their identity stolen!
I’ll go through how your teen’s identity could be stolen while traveling, what they can do to prevent it from happening, and what to do if you suspect their identity has been stolen!
How Your Teen’s Identity Can Be Stolen
As parents, many of us are mindful of protecting our personal information when traveling. After all, we’ve all heard the horror stories about how costly and time-consuming identity theft can be and know it’s something we don’t want to have to deal with!
But let’s not forget about our kids! Even though they might not yet be working or have any significant assets to their name, they are still very much a target for criminals and hackers. So as parents, we should all do our best to educate our teens on the importance of protecting their personal information.
We’re much more susceptible to identity theft when we’re traveling. We might use foreign ATMs more often, connect to Wi-Fi networks we aren’t familiar with, and carry a lot of our sensitive documents like passports, boarding passes, and credit cards.
So when you take that equation and throw in a teen who may not be as experienced with handling money, it can be a very risky proposition! That’s because they can be more susceptible to falling for typical scams. They may not know to check for ATM skimmers, monitor their bank accounts for fraudulent activity, or what types of photos they should avoid posting on social media.
Here are a few things your teen can keep in mind to minimize the chances of having their identity stolen.
Use Caution Online!
Smart phones and accompanying apps like Snapchat and Facebook are how many teens nowadays spend most of their time connecting with others, and it they’re not careful, they might accidentally give out information that a hacker could use to steal their identity!
Now as a parent, that doesn’t mean I would necessarily discourage them from using these apps on their travels. But it is a good opportunity to educate them on some precautions to take to minimize the chances of having their identity stolen.
Public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi is a treasure chest for many hackers. That’s because much of the information transmitted over the network is unsecured, and therefore, easy for anyone to snatch! It’s a good idea to avoid public Wi-Fi at all costs, but if your teen has no other option, they should avoid conducting any transactions that contain any personal information like a social security number, date of birth, credit card information, or bank log-in credentials.
If they must conduct sensitive transactions, they should consider setting up a secure VPN as a safer way to protect their information.
Location Settings: Location services can be a great way to keep track of your kids because it shares your location with your friends and family. But if you can, it’s advisable to turn off location settings especially when you’re traveling. If that location data gets into the wrong hands, criminals can use that data to identify specific behavior and patterns to possibly launch targeted attacks.
Basically, when it comes to your security, the best rule of thumb is to remain anonymous.
Social Media Safety: Ah, social media. I think I can safely say that most teens spend the vast majority of their time on some sort of social media platform like Facebook or Snapchat. It can be very tempting for your teen to share the exciting news and photos of their trip, especially if they’re flying to bucket-list destinations thanks to miles and points from the best airline credit cards. I personally see photos of my friends frequently posting pictures of passports, boarding passes, and hotels they’re staying at. A determined hacker, however, can use that information to potentially wreak havoc on a trip!
The best thing for your teen to do is to avoid posting photos until they return home. And if they do decide to post photos online, educate your teen not to post anything with their personal information!
In fact, the safest solution would be to avoid posting anything with identifying numbers, such as order numbers or confirmation numbers. That’s because in many instances, those order confirmation numbers are one of just a few key pieces of information needed to claim their identity.
Photos of Boarding Passes: I frequently see people posting photos of their boarding passes on social media, but just because many others do it, does NOT mean it’s safe to do!
In fact, posting a photo of your boarding pass could reveal enough information for a hacker to steal your identity. Websites designed to read the specific bar codes on boarding passes quickly and easily reveal information like your name, frequent flyer account numbers, booking numbers, seat numbers, and possibly more! In many instances, that’s enough information for a hacker to change your travel itinerary!
Imagine showing up to the airport, only to find that you don’t have a spot on the flight you booked because someone called and changed your reservations. It’s happened!
Snapchat: Teens tend to be far too trusting, and may decide it’s okay to let the whole world know where they are. But as parents you should know better! There’s no need for everyone to know where they’re staying when they’re abroad. Keeping your location private is the best way to make sure you’re not a target for hackers.
Snapchat’s Ghost Mode comes in handy for something like this, because it allows you to make your location private so no one else can track your movements.
Public Computers: Having access to a public computer at a hotel business center can be a great convenience, but don’t conduct any sensitive transactions on it! Because it’s not a computer you own, you have no idea what software could be silently running in the background. For all you know, the computer could be infected with viruses, spyware, or key logging software ready to capture your bank login details, social security number, or other personal information that could be used to steal your identity!
Computer viruses are everywhere, and based on a report online, it was estimated that a new malware variant was released every 4.2 seconds. That’s a lot of malware out there!
So tell your teens to be safe. Stay away from public computers, but if they must use them, make sure they don’t enter any identifying information!
Keep Valuables in a Carry-on: If your teen will be taking a flight to reach their destination, it’s best for them to keep their valuables in their carry-on bags if possible. There’s no guarantee that your checked luggage will be handled with care, and you don’t want to arrive at your destination to find your valuables damaged. Checking your luggage may also increase the likelihood that it gets lost or stolen!
So if at all possible, take your valuables with you onto the plane in your carry-on so that you can keep a closer eye on it!
Use Bank ATMs: If your teen will be traveling abroad, they’ll likely have to withdraw cash from an ATM at some point. Remind them to try and stick to ATMs located at local banks, and to try and avoid those located in restaurants, bars, and supermarkets!
ATMs at local banks are less likely to be tampered with. There’s a better chance that there’s video surveillance and regular security patrols, things that tend to deter would-be criminals from even attempting to install any type of credit card skimmers on the machines.
ATMs located in restaurants and bars, however, are likely to be bigger targets for hackers because they’re not as likely to have such deterrents.
Using Caution in Offline Settings
Although they may spend most of their time glued to their phones online, there are still plenty of opportunities for their identities to be stolen in-person as well! Here are a few common scenarios to keep in mind.
Paying With a Card at a Restaurant: When we dine at a sit-down restaurant, most of us don’t give a second thought to handing our credit card to the waiter as they walk away elsewhere to process our payment. But with the card out of sight, what else could they be doing without our knowledge?
I’ve heard plenty of stories where workers at the restaurant used a machine to clone the credit card. But even without that machine, it’s easy enough with our phones today to take a picture of the credit card!
That’s why it’s a good suggestion for your teens to never let their credit card out of their sight! They can walk up to the front (or wherever the restaurant processes the credit card payments) any time during or after their meal to pay. With the card in their sight at all times, it’s highly unlikely a worker would even try to copy the credit card information.
Don’t Provide Information Over the Phone: When it comes to providing personal information over the phone, my personal rule of thumb is to never give out information on an incoming phone call, even if it looks and sounds legitimate! Phone numbers can be spoofed to make it seem like a call from a legitimate company, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know who is at the other end of the line.
If your teen does receive a call from a company requesting personal information, it’s best to hang up, and then call back using a phone number from the company’s website.
This way, they’ll know that they are speaking with a legitimate representative of the company.
Protect Your Boarding Pass: The barcode on your boarding pass may seem innocent enough, but in the wrong hands, someone could use that information to steal your identity and change your travel itinerary!
Caution your teen not post a photo of their boarding pass online. Similarly, tell them to keep a close eye on their pass when they receive a physical copy of it. If it gets lost and is picked up by someone, they could easily scan the barcode on the pass to find information about you, such as your frequent flyer account number, name, addresses, and more! All of which could be used to change your travel plans.
And to avoid the possibility of losing your pass, opt for a mobile version of the pass if possible!
What If Your Child’s Identity Is Stolen?
Travel insurance can also be helpful in mitigating the damage caused by identity theft. Depending on the company you purchase the insurance through, they may be able to help you with contacting local law enforcement, obtaining and filing the appropriate forms, and even contact your creditors to assist you with having new cards issued in your name.
Also helpful is the fact that consumer protection laws have evolved over the years in response to the increase in identity theft, and now allow consumers to more easily handle cases of fraud. Freezing your child’s credit report for free for instance, really helps take some of the pain away should you be forced to deal with a case of identity theft, and should be extremely effective in preventing additional credit cards and loans from fraudulently being opened.
Implications of Identity Theft
Identity theft is a serious issue for your teen because it could absolutely wreck their credit if left unchecked! And without good credit, it could affect their ability to qualify for a good credit card, car loan, student loan, or even rent an apartment (assuming they’ll be going to college in the coming years).
If any of your teen’s accounts are linked to yours, it could also affect your credit as the parent. For instance, if your teen has been added as an authorized user to one of your credit cards and a hacker steals that credit card number, they could potentially max out the credit card. That spending would be reflected on your credit report and would negatively affect your credit as well because your credit score takes into consideration your total balances and overall credit utilized.
Your teen’s credit could also affect their ability to land a job. Depending on the industry and type of job they might be applying for, a formal job offer could be contingent upon having clean credit. This is particularly true for positions in the finance and banking industry!
With all that said, these are all pretty serious implications of identity theft, so it’s important to take as many precautionary measures as possible to minimize the likelihood of having to deal with these headaches.
The new law making it free to check a child’s credit report is a great reminder that everyone in your family, your kids included, can be at risk for identity theft! And they could be put at an even higher risk if they will be traveling on their own.
It’s a good opportunity to educate your kids about financial security, with some tips and pointers for how to stay safe both online and offline. While nothing is guaranteed, it can drastically reduce the likelihood that their identity will be stolen.
Identity theft is a serious issue that could have far-reaching consequences for your teen. It could affect their ability to qualify for a loan, rent an apartment, and even potential job offers! Ultimately, following these tips in protecting your personal information can save you grief in the long run by avoiding the hassles associated with clearing your name in identity theft.