Protect your identity from thieves while on vacation

Identity theft is a vacation-killer, but it doesn't have to be.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
Rae Hodge
5 min read
Getty/Stefan Cristian Cioata

Oh, no. After months of coronavirus quarantines, you're enjoying a long-overdue and CDC-approved vacation, trying to shake off the stress of an overwhelming year, and you realize you've lost your passport, your wallet or other crucial documents. It happens. But you can avoid this travel nightmare with just a day or so of predeparture preparation to make sure your most important documents and identification are secured. 

Here are some services and tips to consider that can set you sailing with some peace of mind. 

An ounce of prevention 

One of the most useful components of online identity theft prevention is letting your bank know your approximate travel dates and locations before departure. You may be able head off not only errant charges from insecure point-of-sale terminals but you could also avoid having an out-of-area transaction declined by your bank's automated anti-fraud barriers. You may not even need to call the bank to do it. Searching "[bank name] travel notification" online usually directs you to an online portal where you can set up a travel advisory yourself.

You'll also want to scan your personal identification documents and email those scans to yourself. Boarding passes, driver's licenses, social security cards, passports -- whatever sensitive document you don't want to lose, scan it and email it to yourself. 

Keep in mind that your personal information is only as secure as your email provider. For example, if you're a Gmail user, make sure you've taken a few minutes to review your security settings. If you're not satisfied with Gmail's overall security, you should look into its widely hailed, privacy-minded competitor, Protonmail

I also advise sending those scans to one trusted family member or friend back home who knows your location and estimated time of return. If, for any reason, you can't access these digital copies, your loyal counterpart back home will be able to jump in and assist.

And remember: If your physical passport is lost, you'll want to report the loss immediately to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. They can help you quickly get a replacement or assist you with getting funds wired to you via the embassy. 

Coronavirus reopenings: How it looks as lockdowns ease around the world

See all photos

Get to know your identity protection services

A solid identity protection service can take the worry of bank fraud off of your travel itinerary. While you still want to be careful with where and how you provide your banking information while traveling, choosing the right service can give you the assurance that if you do get hit financially while on the road, you've got an insurance policy in place. 

If you're looking for a low-cost option, Identity Fraud is a service with stand-out prices. It has the second lowest entry-level price of any of the services we explored, offers fraud insurance, credit monitoring and even lost wallet services. 

If you're traveling in a group or are looking to cover more than one person in your family, Intelius allows you to monitor two addresses, two phone numbers, three credit or debit cards, and two bank account numbers, providing broader coverage than some of its competitors.

For the most flexibility on an identity protection service plan, check out LifeLock. Despite its past stumbles, its services are still competitive and costs range from $9.99 a month to $29.99 a month and offer reimbursement of $25,000 to $1 million. Other features which might appeal to the travel-savvy are LifeLock's Social Security number and credit card alerts, dark web monitoring, alerts on suspicious activity like crimes committed in your name.

Read more: Best identity theft protection and monitoring services in 2020

Leave the bills at home

Pro-tip: Don't pay your monthly bills online when you're on vacation. Pay them before you leave. First off, it's vacation. For the love of all things salt and sun, it's time to enjoy yourself. Second, every data-sensitive account you log into while in remote territory is another opportunity to have your identity and private accounts compromised. 

While you might be tempted to pay your bills on your phone, the principle stands: If the security of your internet connection is itself in question, accessing your accounts via cell phone is no more secure than accessing them via your laptop. See more below for how a VPN could help you find a solution to this issue. 

Use a password manager

If you're trying to check your accounts from a public computer, you're potentially exposing yourself to a bevy of data-skimming software or keyloggers waiting to scope out your passwords. One of the best ways to circumvent this threat is to use a password manager -- an encrypted digital vault that stores the login information you use to access apps on mobile devices, websites and other services. 

By choosing a good password manager, you're limiting your password exposure and often able to use the manager to generate strong, unique passwords. Well-known managers like LastPass and 1Password, for instance, include this feature and both come with either free or trial versions. 

Even with a password manager in place, generating strong passwords, it's also generally advised among the jet-setting crowd that once you're back home, you should change the passwords to any key accounts you've logged into while traveling. 

Read more: Best password manager to use for 2020: 1Password, LastPass and more compared

Use a VPN when in hotels or on public Wi-Fi  

Sure, the general improvement of encrypted internet connections over the past decade has made attacks over public Wi-Fi somewhat less likely as a pervasive threat. But logging onto hotel and public Wi-Fi still means handing over a detailed record of your internet activity to more eyes than you might want. Using a virtual private network during travel is your best bet at keeping your digital blinds drawn when you're on the road, and could spare you the headache of having to negotiate digital identity theft. 

As tempting as it might be to save your dollars for mementos and travel trinkets, we recommend avoiding free VPNs and instead looking for a reputable with a generous trial-and-refund period. If you're looking to stay secure without breaking your budget, take a look at the recent deals we've dug up from Surfshark, IPVanish and Private Internet Access.

Read more: The best VPN service for 2020

Watch this: Top 5 Reasons to Use a VPN