Tips to avoid fraud during your summer getaway
CROMWELL — Before the internet came of age, getaway preparation use to be simple: suspend mail and newspaper delivery, make sure the water is turned off and keep a few lights on so that it appears as if you are home.
The vacation safety checklist is now substantially longer. It involves pre-getaway preparations and vigilance before, during and after your trip.
Fake rental listings – If you intend to rent a cottage or home for your vacation, don’t pay by wire transfer or cashier’s check. Criminals lift photos and descriptions of properties and post them online. The victims often don’t know they have been deceived until they show up, try to open the door and discover the property is already occupied.
Give financial institutions a heads up – Call your bank and credit card issuer before leaving, to prevent out-of-state transactions from being declined. Credit card activity that doesn’t fit your typical patterns may result in your card being suspended unless you tell your financial institutions when and where you are going, for how long, and whether you will be making stops along the way.
Find a bank ATM – Criminals target standalone ATMs and gas station pumps for “card skimming.” Skimmers are devices placed over the card reader slot to capture your information and send it to a cybercriminal. Before withdrawing cash or using your card to buy gas, examine the slot to make sure it is flush with the ATM.
Be aware of your surroundings and low tech criminal activity – Purse snatchers and pickpockets still use low tech methods to target tourists. They also work in teams. Be suspicious if someone on the sidewalk “accidentally” spills a drink on you. While you are cleaning up, the criminal’s partner may grab your wallet, purse and other belongings. Another ruse involves someone offering to take a photo of your group with your smart device. If you are fortunate, they will take a photo and give you back the device. If you are not so lucky, they will grab your phone or camera and run.
Keep copies of documents, cards and customer service numbers – This is vital in case your belongings are lost or stolen. Keep the information in a safe place or email it to yourself.
Unfortunately, there are also fraud risks once you arrive at your hotel.
Ask for the name of the Wi-Fi network – Criminals set up shop in hotel lobbies and create fake Wi-Fi networks with names that resemble the hotel’s. They do the same in other public areas where free Wi-Fi does not require a password such as airports, restaurants and coffee shops. If you use one of these phony networks, you risk having your device hacked. If you use public Wi-Fi, avoid conducting financial transactions. A skilled hacker will capture your logins and passwords.
Ignore the “front desk” scam – You may receive a call overnight from someone who says the hotel’s computer system is down and that they need your payment information for their files. Those calls originate from scammers outside of the hotel. The front desk will never ask for personal information over the telephone.
Be suspicious of flyers under your door – Criminals who manage to get into hotels slip flyers for local restaurants under guests’ doors. The food in the photo may look delicious, but you may have a long wait for the delivery. The flyers are phony and the only thing the “restaurant” wants is your credit card number to commit fraud.
Carefully review all of your financial statements when you get back home to look for mistakes or unauthorized charges. In addition, a credit card provides more protection than a debit card in the event of fraud. If you see a suspicious charge on your statement, report it immediately to your credit card issuer.
Finally, don’t forget to use sunscreen. It may not prevent fraud, but it will prevent you from getting a sunburn and the unpleasant pain that goes along with it.