6 Smart Moves to Prevent Identity Theft When You Travel

lost wallet

What's in your wallet? Too many of us are carrying around items that would make it easy for identity thieves to do significant damage, said Becky Frost, Consumer Education Manager for Experian's ProtectMyID, an identity theft protection service.

Here are six smart ways to protect yourself from identity theft when you travel:

Pare down your credit cards. "It's a smart idea to do a wallet inventory before every trip," said Frost. You may need one or two credit cards on vacation but you don't need to bring every credit, debit, and store charge card that you own. Don't think you have time for this task? Consider how long it would take to replace every card you carry if your wallet is lost or stolen. 

Keep a record. If your wallet goes missing, you'll need to quickly contact your bank, credit card providers, medical insurance providers, and other companies. In a secure place at home, keep photocopies of the front and back of all your important cards. It's also a good idea to travel with a backup copy that you keep separate from your wallet. "Very often the important contact phone numbers are on the backs of cards," said Frost. 

Leave your social security card at home. About one in four of us carry our social security numbers or our children's SSNs in our wallets, which is extremely risky, said Frost. "After medical insurance cards, social security numbers have the second-highest value on the black market," she said.

Bring your health insurance card, plus a photocopy. "It's probably not top of mind to contact your medical insurance company if your wallet is stolen," said Frost. "But in this day and age, people can do a lot of damage with a stolen medical insurance card if they receive goods or services in your name and with your number." While you need to carry your insurance card with you in case of emergency, also bring a photocopied record.

Use your hotel safe. Once you arrive at your destination, put photocopied backup documents and alternative credit cards in a safe place. "Normally when we're traveling, a hotel safe is the best option," said Frost.

Less is more on luggage tags. While having a luggage tag is smart, "prominently displaying all of your personal identifiable information isn't the safest idea," said Frost. Consider listing only your first name, cell phone and email address rather than your full name and home address.

While you're thinking about safety, learn how to safely use public wi-fi when on vacation.