Protect your identity (and your children’s) when you travel

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.

When you’re ready to travel, the world is your oyster, especially with one of the best credit cards for travel. But travelers must protect their personal information and — especially — that of their children.

Even seemingly harmless activities, like posting to Snapchat or using an ATM, can expose someone to identity theft. So it’s important to keep a close eye on your family’s data.

In fact, a new law makes it free to check your child’s credit report. It’s a good reminder that everyone in your family can be at risk of having their identity stolen.

Don’t forget about your kids like the McCallisters did in “Home Alone” — they are targets for identity theft too. (Photo by Liderina/Shutterstock)

I’ll go through how your teen’s identity could be stolen while traveling, what you and 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 own personal information when traveling. We’ve all heard the horror stories about how costly, time-consuming and stressful identity theft can be.

But even though our children might not yet be working or have any significant assets to their name, they are still very much a target for criminals and hackers. As parents, we should try to educate our teens in particular 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 with us.

So when you take that susceptibility and throw in a teenager, it can be a very risky proposition. They can be targets for scams. They may not know to check for ATM skimmers, monitor their bank accounts for fraudulent activity or avoid posting certain types of photos on social media.

Here are a few things you and your teen can keep in mind to minimize the chances of having their identity stolen.

Use caution online

Smartphones and apps like Snapchat and Facebook are how teens usually connect with others, but they can accidentally give out information that a hacker could use to steal their identity.

I wouldn’t necessarily discourage them from using these apps on their travels, but they need to take some precautions.

Public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi is a treasure trove for hackers. Much of the information transmitted over the network is unsecured and easy to snatch. It’s a good idea to avoid public Wi-Fi at all costs, but if there is no other option, we should all at least 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 you must conduct sensitive transactions, consider setting up a secure VPN as a safer way to protect 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, turn off location settings, especially when you’re traveling. If location data gets into the wrong hands, criminals can use it to identify patterns of behavior that make it easier to launch targeted attacks.

When it comes to your security, the best rule of thumb is to remain anonymous.

Social media safety: Ah, social media. It can be very tempting for your teen to share the news and photos of their trip, especially if they’re flying to fantastic destinations thanks to miles and points from the best airline credit cards. I regularly see photos of my friends with pictures of their passports, boarding passes and hotels they’re staying at. A determined hacker can use that information to 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 decide to post photos, they should never post anything with their personal information.

The safest policy is to avoid posting anything with identifying numbers, such as order numbers or confirmation numbers. That’s because, in many instances, those numbers are one of just a few key pieces of information needed to claim someone else’s identity.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing photos of your trip on social media, but never post anything with personal information that hackers could use to impersonate you. (Photo by Vasin Lee/Shutterstock)
Photos of boarding passes: I frequently see people posting photos of their boarding passes on social media, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

In fact, posting a photo of your boarding pass could reveal enough information for a hacker to steal your identity. There are websites designed to read barcodes on boarding passes and those can be used to get 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.

Similarly, tell your teen to keep a close eye on their boarding pass when they receive a physical copy of it. If it gets lost and is picked up by someone, the barcode could once again be used to change their travel plans. And to avoid the possibility of losing their pass, opt for a mobile version of the pass if possible.

Imagine showing up at 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 they may let the whole world know where they are. But 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 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. You don’t own the computer and you have no idea what software could be silently running in the background. It could be infected with viruses, spyware, or key-logging software ready to capture your bank login details, Social Security number or other personal data.

Computer viruses are everywhere. One online report estimated that a new malware variant is released every 4.2 seconds.

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 you or your teen will be taking a flight, you should keep valuables in your 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 or lost or stolen.

Take your valuables with you onto the plane in your carry-on so that you can keep a close eye on it. Using a card that comes with travel protection benefits isn’t a bad idea, either.

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 to stick to ATMs in banks and avoid those in restaurants, bars, and supermarkets.

ATMs at 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 credit card skimmers on the machines.

ATMs located in restaurants and bars, on the other hand, are more likely to be targets for hackers because they’re often not equipped with those deterrents. 

Using caution in offline settings

Although teens 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 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 machines to clone the credit card. But even without a machine, it’s easy enough to just 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 unlikely a worker would try to copy the credit card information.

Don’t provide 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 you or your teen receives a call from a company requesting personal information, it’s best to hang up and call back using a phone number from the company’s website.

This way, you’ll know that you are speaking with a legitimate representative of the company.

What if your child’s identity is stolen?

Travel insurance can be helpful in mitigating the damage caused by identity theft. Depending on the insurance company you use, they may be able to help you to contact local law enforcement, file the appropriate forms and even contact your creditors to assist in getting new credit cards.

Consumer protection laws have also evolved over the years in response to the increase in identity theft and now allow consumers to more easily deal with cases of fraud. Freezing your child’s credit report for free for instance, could ease the pain of identity theft and can be effective in preventing thieves from opening additional credit cards and loans.

Each state has slightly different laws; they are summarized in the table below.

[table id=488 responsive=scroll responsive_breakpoint=phone /]

Implications of identity theft

Identity theft is a serious issue for your teen because it could wreck their credit and yours. Without good credit, they could lose the ability to qualify for a credit card, car loan, student loan or even an apartment rental.

If any of your teen’s accounts are linked to yours, it could also affect your credit. 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.

Your teen’s credit could also affect their ability to land a job. Depending on the industry and the type of job they might apply for, a job offer could be contingent upon having clean credit. This is particularly true for positions in the finance and banking industry.

Bottom line

The new law making it free to check a child’s credit report is a great reminder that everyone in your family can be at risk for identity theft. And your children could be put at a 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. Safety isn’t guaranteed, but it’s good to 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 apply for jobs. Following these tips for protecting personal information can save them and you the grief of having your identity stolen.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

Join the Discussion!

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments