LEAWOOD, Kan. - As families pack up for a week of fun and relaxation over spring break, everyone knows to take plenty of sunscreen to protect against sunburn.
But it's just as important to take steps to protect against identity theft.
"While identity theft can happen at any time, it can be more likely while traveling because you're carrying a lot of personal information in a distracting and unfamiliar environment," said Brad Smith, Kansas Regional President, BMO Harris Bank.
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information -- such as your Social Security number -- and illegally uses it to open accounts or initiate transactions in your name. This can cause financial loss and damage your credit. The most common identity theft occurs when your wallet or purse is stolen, as the thief has easy access to check cards, IDs and other personal information.
"Your spring break trip doesn't have to be ruined by the threat of identity theft. Take a few simple precautions so you can enjoy your vacation without worry," Smith said.
He recommends the following steps when traveling to protect you and your family from identity theft.
--Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your card with you. If asked for your number, ask why the information is needed.
--Never leave your personal documents unsecured in a hotel room. This includes checks and legal papers or computers and smartphones that may have personal information. Many hotels offer a security box in each room. This rule is especially important in foreign countries.
--Carry the minimum. You do not need to travel with every piece of personal information you own. Only carry necessary credit cards and documents.
--Beware of your surroundings. When accessing an ATM or using your PIN, beware of your surroundings. Cover your hand when typing in codes.
--Don't check-in personal information. At airports, never place personal documentation in luggage that you intend to check-in. Once it is checked-in, it is out of your control and sight.
--Use appropriate security measures when carrying information and money. Reduce the risk of personal information loss and identity theft by consciously using travel accessories like security money belts, security travel purse, security travel bags and money clips.
--Be wise about Wi-Fi. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected.
For more information on how to protect your identity while traveling, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.