Travel Dangers: 25 Ways Hackers Target Travellers

Wifi with phone and pencil

Did you know hackers are waiting for you to use free WIFI when you travel? You might be tempted to use the free WIFI at the airport, hotel or a coffee shop. Or, you might let everyone know on social media you’re going on vacation. These are mistakes that online attackers look for.  And, it’s easier than you think for cyber stalkers to see your passwords and personal information. Here’s how to safeguard your identity when you travel so you don’t fall prey to hacking incidents.

1. You’re using the free WIFI when you travel and hackers are watching.

You use the free WIFI at the airport, hotel and coffee shop. Despite the message stating, “Others might see your information”, you ignore it because you assume you’re safe.

Why This is a Problem

Using free WIFI is very dangerous because it’s unsecured and unencrypted. You might think a name brand hotel, airline or coffee shop will safeguard your data, but they’re not the problem. Hacking incidents like “man-in-the-middle” attacks can occur. These are third-party hackers where a hacker is waiting for you to use the free WIFI. In these attacks, you’re not connecting to a legitimate business but the hacker is infiltrating the connection. They can view your passwords and purchases. They can even direct you to fake sites so they can add malware onto your device.

To Fix This

Use a reputable virtual private network (VPN) service. It encrypts your information and hides your identity online. Try Express VPN, Nord VPN or Cyber Ghost.

2. Your passwords are too short.

Why This is a Problem

Your zodiac sign. Your first pet’s name. Short passwords are easy for hackers to find. Hackers can check your social media accounts for common names. Or, hack into a major store like Target and try your stored password there on your other accounts.

What You Should Do

Use longer passwords that are a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.

3. You select the free WIFI option from a nearby business.

When you travel to a vacation hotspot, you might be tempted to use free WIFI from someone else in the area.

Why This is a Problem

Visiting the U.S. soon? Hackers offer free WIFI near major hotels so they can scam business travellers and tourists. In the U.S. in 2017, there were about 2.7 million fraud reports and nearly $1 billion lost to identity theft scams and hacking incidents. And, one group Dark Hotel has evolved tactics that include malware and Trojan viruses.

To Fix This

Never use WIFI from a random, nearby business. It might be a spoof WIFI a hacker set up. Instead, use the WIFI at your hotel. And, then only access the WIFI with a VPN.

4. You tell everyone you’re away.

You email your friends, fans and family that you’re going out of town.

Why This is a Problem

Hackers work together on the dark web. They share information and look for unsuspecting tourists. These might include hackers pretending to be friends hoping to get details on you to get your account passwords. Or, they can be thieves near your home hoping to break in. Hence, the need for home insurance.

What You Should Do

Never tell “fans” on social media you’re travelling. Wait until you return to share details about your trip.

5. You tell everyone you meet you’re a tourist.

You’re excited to be away and tell everyone hoping they can help you score a few deals and discounts at your travel destination.

Why This is a Problem

When you travel, depending on the location, not everyone likes tourists. Some people see a tourist as a way to make money. They only want to steal their identity or get their credit card information. For example, tourists might have more money on their credit cards. Why? They’re on vacation and need to cover excursions, restaurants and shopping.

To Fix This

While people can tell you’re probably not a local, you don’t have to divulge you’re a tourist. Don’t flash the cash and don’t do a lot of excessive shopping away from your hotel property.

6. You give your credit card to a waiter or waitress.

Why This is a Problem

In some shady establishments, the help can get a kickback if they skim your credit card data. Meaning, they’ll hide a skimmer under the real credit card machine to steal your information.

What You Should Do

Don’t give your credit card to the wait staff until you’re ready to leave the table and then go to the bar when they run your credit card. You can confirm they don’t swipe it twice. Or, write down your pin number.

7. You’re using ATMs everywhere you go.

Why This is a Problem

Some ATMs have small data skimming devices or “skimmers” set up in them to steal the data from the magnetic strip on your card. Some can even steal card chip data.

To Fix This

Check with your bank about updated chip cards. These smart payment cards store data on integrated circuits and they’re more secure than traditional cards. Look for a skimming device at a gas station or at an ATM not at a major bank with several cameras.

8. You shop on unverified websites and hackers steal your money with fake ads.

Let’s say you’re travelling over the Christmas holiday and you want to buy gifts online. You’re a snowbird who enjoys warmer climates in winter. And, you’ve already saved a ton on travel insurance by comparison shopping. So, you’re hoping to score a few bargain deals online and you’re using the free WIFI at your hotel or rental property.

Why This is a Problem

An online attacker can send you to a spoofing or fake website that’s not legitimate. Or, you could send your credit card information to a company that doesn’t even sell real merchandise.

What You Should Do

  • Use a reputable VPN so your connection and information are encrypted.
  • Question any site with deals that look “too good to be true”. For example, you see new Lenovo computers advertised at $65 CAD, (actual cost $1,048 CAD). And, the seller has ten of them for sale. These are usually thieves who want to steal your money because they know the credit card company will reimburse you. Just walk away from these fake deals.
  • Use an internet browser extension through your internet security software. It will confirm sites are legitimate before you click on them. Then, safely go back to holiday shopping!

9. You’re storing passwords on your computer.

Why This is a Problem

You’re away and a hacker gets into your system because you’re using free WIFI from an unsecured router. They’ve downloaded malware to your computer because you clicked on a link. Now they have access to your computer. They will look for your passwords in common places like your address book and notepad.

To Fix This

Store your passwords offline or use a cybersecurity software program that securely stores them for you. These can include:

  • Avast or Norton.
  • McAfee or AVG.
  • Malware Bytes or Bitdefender.

10. Mail piles up while you’re away.

Why This is a Problem

Depending on how long you’re away from home, sensitive information might be sitting in your mailbox. You might have bank statements or credit card reports that include personal data. Criminals might drive by to check your mail if they know no one’s home. How would they know? You teenage kids mentioned it on social media.

What You Should Do

Have your mail held by your postal carrier or a trusted neighbour. You can also ask them to remove any flyers and turn on the lights at night. Or, use a smart home device like Nest, Alexa, Phillips Hue or Amazon Echo. If you live in an apartment, ask a trusted neighbour to remove flyers and notices. And, make sure you have home insurance as a safeguard while you’re travelling.

11. You’re not checking websites for spelling errors.

Picture it. You use the free WIFI at the airport and your hotel. You even shop online from a coffee house. But, you’re not aware that you’re on a bogus site that’s a phishing scam.

Why This is a Problem

Online predators are hoping you’ll do shopping on their fake version of a site so they can steal your credit card data.

To Fix This

When you’re online shopping, always look for misspellings. Hackers will sometimes try to duplicate a verified site’s data but hackers can’t spell. A red flag is several misspellings or broken links. If you come across this, immediately closeout and run an internet security scan. Software like Avast and Norton offer internet browser extensions or plug-ins that will check the sites you visit. This ensures the websites are reputable and that their online certificate is verified. Back to your tropical oasis!

12. Your software isn’t up-to-date.

You’ve got a few alerts that a software update is available, but you don’t have time. You actually shut off the alert reminders because you don’t want the distractions while on holiday.

Why This is a Problem

Software updates aren’t reminders about a new product. Security protocols are patches to help fix software vulnerabilities like a weakness or security hole. An attacker can easily get into your system by writing specific code to target a vulnerability in your old software.

What You Should Do

To avoid hackers stealing your data and taking over your computer, set your updates to run automatically. That way you don’t have to worry about bothersome pop-ups (especially on your vacation).

13. You accept Facebook requests from strangers you don’t know.

You have so many fans and you’re getting likes and friend requests from all over the world. You never knew you could be this trendy!

Why This is a Problem

While some people might have a general interest in you if you have a blog or tell great stories, others aren’t there for socializing. Scammers use fake profiles to because you’re revealing too much personal information. They’re collecting details on you until they have enough information to steal your identity.

To Fix This

If you’re going to befriend people, check them out first by clicking on their pages. A Facebook red flag is if they have no other friends and are new on Facebook. Or, if they haven’t been online in years and suddenly “like” you.

You will also want to limit what you say about your personal information:

  • Never give your mother’s maiden name.
  • Don’t give out the first street you lived on.
  • Don’t give a favorite name from a pet you had.

These are all hints people use for security questions and a hacker might try to use them to access your online accounts.

14. You don’t delete the history at an internet café.

You’re on a shared computer and close out and then leave. You assume the computer will reset itself and your information isn’t stored.

Why This is a Problem

A savvy user can go into the computer’s history and check every site you visited. They might even be able to go page by page and open all sites you didn’t log out of.

What You Should Do

Before using internet café computers, ask if they will delete the history. Then, only visit sites where you won’t need to share personal information. So, yes to checking flight information. But, no to transferring money from one account to the next (if it’s an emergency, call your bank or use a VPN first).

15. You don’t log out at an internet café.

You’re on a shared computer in a public place and when you log out, you just get up and leave. Or, you close the open tabs out but don’t log out.

Why This is a Problem

Another user can hop back on your email or other accounts because you haven’t logged out.

To Fix This

If you’re not sure if you’ve logged out, reset your passwords as soon as you can.

16. You use the same password for every account.

You use the exact same password for every account. Who has time to remember a separate password?

Why This is a Problem

Hackers aren’t just limited to one guy or one team. These can be sophisticated hacking organizations. All they need to do is hack into a security system like Target and then try out your password on your other types of accounts.

What You Should Do

Worried you can’t remember all your passwords? Try a password manager app that encrypts all your data.

Or, try these recommendations:

  • Store your passwords through your cybersecurity software if you don’t want to have to remember them.
  • Ensure they are longer passwords with symbols, letters and numbers mixed in.
  • Never store passwords on your computer. If you’re old-school, write them in a safe area away from your computer. A hacker could easily get into your contacts to look up your saved passwords.

17. You give your personal information over the phone.

Picture it. You’re on vacation, enjoying the sun and someone calls stating they need your personal information. They say it’s a billing company or about a free trip or sweepstakes offer.

Why This is a Problem

You can’t verify who’s on the other end of the line so be suspicious with incoming callers requesting personal information. They could be someone trying to steal your identity. Thieves and scammers can check your social media to confirm you’re travelling. They can check your mail and look for a bill or statement. If they find your phone number, they can call you and try to dupe you into giving them more personal information. This happens to the elderly who are vulnerable to scams.

To Fix This

Don’t answer if you don’t recognize the number. If someone requests personal information, hang up. Call the company and not the incoming number in your caller ID. Confirm that the legitimate business needs your personal information.

18. You use your debit card at travel destinations.

Your credit was so-so, so you’re travelling with a debit card. You know the risks, but you promise yourself you won’t give your pin out.

Why This is a Problem

Debit cards are the cash money from your bank account. If a hacker steals your card information, this can be all the money you have. With a credit card, you can dispute a charge or freeze your card to stop any suspicious activity. But, you don’t have that option with debit cards and it can take longer to get your money back.

What You Should Do

If you’re travelling, apply for a secured credit card. Then load the money you want to use for your trip onto the card.

19. You’re not using two-factor authentication.

You have all your accounts set up with a single password. You’ve heard about two-factor authentication, but you’re on holiday. Who has time for that?

Why This is a Problem

An account that is only protected by a single password is easy for a hacker to get into.

To Fix This

Two-factor authentication is an extra step and added security. Use two-factor authentication on your email and other accounts. You can use your user ID and password and your account holder will then send a code to you by email or text in your phone.

20. You don’t cover your pin when you shop overseas.

You’re shopping at a store and enter your debit card pin at the checkout counter. You don’t have to cover up your pin, right? This is a reputable store.

Why This is a Problem

Hackers prey on tourists all the time. And, if a hacker has a skimmer set up on a credit card terminal or ATM, if they see you add your pin, this gives them access to your account. They might have a camera hidden nearby. What’s also concerning is some banks are refunding to refund customers for fraudulent transactions.

They might even have specific timelines in place when you can get your money back:

  • They might charge you $0 if you report it right away.
  • A $50 fee if you wait for 48-hours.
  • Up to $500 if you wait for 48-hours to 60-days.

What You Should Do

Always cover the keyboard with your free hand and hover over it so no one can see you adding your pin. Set up text alerts for transactions over a specific amount and check balances regularly. Report any suspicious activity immediately.

Only use ATMs that are well-lit and inside banks (more cameras). If you’re at a store, don’t select “debit” for your purchases with a debit card. State “credit” so you won’t have to add your pin number. And, only travel with home insurance to cover any identity theft problems.

21. You don’t verify the email addresses in your inbox.

Your sister sends a bunch of funny pictures to you in your email box while you’re away. The message states, “Thought you would love these”.

Why This is a Problem

Attackers will send malware through emails hoping you click on the links. These are called phishing attacks and they’re hoping you take the bait.

To Fix This

Never click on an email message from someone you don’t know. If it’s from a relative or friend and states they are stranded without money, be careful. This might be a phishing attempt to get you to click on a malware link. Instead, call them to verify their computer hasn’t been hacked.

You can also use an internet security service that includes email protection. This can help in spotting fake emails. You can also read through the email to look for misspelled words. If it’s from Walmart, look to see if the email is misspelled to something like contact@walmrt.com.

22. You throw away sensitive data when you travel.

You’re at the bank or a store and throw away your receipt. Or, you get a bill breakdown at the front desk and throw it in the garbage in your room or at the airport.

Why This is a Problem

Printouts like bill breakdowns and receipts might have your credit card information and your address. It makes it easier for a hacker to gain data on you. And, the less personal information you give, the better.

What You Should Do

Always ask the hotel if they have a shredder. If not, store the information safely in your bag until you get home. Or, ask for a paperless receipt.

23. You ignore alerts on your computer.

You’re getting alerts on your computer that there’s a new Windows update, but you’re getting ready to leave for a tour with friends. So, you unplug your computer.

Why This is a Problem

If your computer is sending you alerts that a new Windows update is out, while some are random, others are critical. Certain alerts can block new internet viruses or malware.

To Fix This

Always run the alerts that come in on your computer. You can set these to automatically run at three or four am when you’re less likely on your computer, phone or another device.

24. You use the WIFI offered at a rental location.

A rental location gives out free WIFI and it’s so convenient. You can just hop online.

Why This is a Problem

If you don’t ask if the WIFI is secure, you might be exposing all your personal information online. Not every WIFI is secured meaning, the information you send might not be encrypted.

What You Should Do

Ask the person you’re renting from if their WIFI is secured and with what company. You can always use a VPN first for an added layer of protection.

25. You don’t routinely run cybersecurity scanners.

You’re online so much while you’re away you don’t have time to run a security check or scanner.

Why This is a Problem

Your internet security software is there to protect you. Especially when you’re on holiday and using wifi from public areas, you should always run your internet scanners.

To Fix This

If you’re using wifi at the airport or hotel lounge, once you’re settled into your room, run your scanner. That way it can alert you to any “bugs” you might have picked up. Always use a VPN to protect your identity online as its an added layer of security that will encrypt all your information. And, protect your passwords with your cybersecurity software. That way you don’t have to worry about not remembering a password while on holiday. It’s vacation. You shouldn’t have to!

Are You Ready to Safeguard Your Trip Against Hackers?

Travelling abroad is exciting especially if you haven’t gone on holiday or vacation in a while. Online predators are looking for ways to steal your identity and banking account information. Hence, you need to be careful when going online. Never use free, public WIFI without a VPN and don’t use WIFI from nearby businesses. Hackers might be waiting on servers to steal your information. Always travel with home insurance that includes identity theft protection. And, don’t tell everyone you’re travelling until you return.

Related Topics

Travel Insurance 101

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