Travel

Make traveling a less-risky business

It can happen to anyone.

Last month, Lindsey Voet was traveling in Morocco with college classmates when she lost her passport. Or maybe it was stolen.

Regardless, she was stranded in a foreign country.

"We went through the Sahara Desert, home-stays in Marrakesh, hotels in Fez, a university in Ifrane. It could have been lost anywhere," said the 20-year-old Sacramento, Calif., native, who was studying abroad with fellow students from Boston's Northeastern University.

Without a passport, Voet was left behind when her traveling companions flew home. It took four days, four police station visits, a $100 fee, a 48-hour wait to reach the American consulate and countless e-mails to her worried parents before Voet finally snagged a temporary passport.

That kind of travel mishap - a missing passport, lost luggage, stolen wallet, ATM glitch or a compromised computer - can happen anywhere, any time.

And it's why vacations make us especially vulnerable to financial fraud, identity theft experts say.

"You're using credit cards and debit cards more often, you're carrying more personal information than normal, you're in less-familiar locales, and you're more prone to talk to strangers," said Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based identity-theft resolution company.

As the summer travel season heats up, more of us are heading out. Despite the economy, U.S. vacation trips this summer are predicted to be up 2.3 percent June through August, with Americans taking more domestic trips and spending slightly more than summer 2009, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Whether you're backpacking, beach-sitting or going abroad, stocking up on some travel safety tips could help you avoid getting financially sunburned. Here are a few:

Contact your credit card company if you're leaving the country or traveling in multiple states. Otherwise, when trying to use your card away from home, it could be denied as suspicious activity.

Make copies of all your travel documents, such as passport, driver's license, credit cards, itinerary, flights and hotel reservations. Scan them into your computer and store them under a benign-sounding file name.

"Don't put it under something that shouts 'Travel Itinerary' so someone crawling into your computer is given an instant roadmap to your life," Levin said.

Take copies with you, so you have them in case something goes wrong.

Voet, the traveler stranded in Morocco, said having two copies of her passport and other documents helped rescue her.

"It hasn't taken the travel bug out of me, but I learned a really good lesson. Keep your passport with you or in a dark, safe corner of your suitcase or backpack. And check for it every morning as part of your routine."

Avoid posting on Facebook how long you'll be gone. If you want the world to know you're heading to Hawaii for two weeks, put in some fakes.

"Post something like: 'My brother Bob is staying at my house while I'm gone,'" Levin suggested. "You don't want to worry that someone is casing your house while you're gone. If you're going to talk about your vacation, wait until you're back and can post your photos."

To ensure that your bank accounts aren't hacked while you're gone, here's another suggestion: "If your financial institution offers daily balance alerts and other account management tools, sign up for them - pronto," said Mike Urban, an ATM fraud expert with FICO.

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