May 31, 2012 at 8:29 AM ET
Some people travel to learn, others to forget. And some end up learning tough lessons because they don't take basic precautions to protect their identities.
Sid Kirchheimer, an AARP Bulletin columnist and the author of "Scam-Proof Your Life," has a few basic rules of thumb for travelers:
Alert your credit card providers
Let them know when, where and how long you’ll be traveling so fraud departments can stop bogus charges if your accounts are used someplace you’re not.
Weed your wallet
Bring only essential ID (i.e., a driver’s license) and just two credit cards. Carry one and lock the other in you hotel room safe in case your wallet is stolen.
Carry a space
In addition to your real wallet, carry a throwaway with a few dollars and some old hotel key cards. If you get held up, you can hand over the spare wallet and keep the real thing.
"That tip about the spare wallet came to me from a professional pickpocket," Kirchheimer told msnbc.com. "A thief in a hurry will think those old hotel key cards are credit cards and he’ll think he has something good."
Kirchheimer, who does carry a spare wallet "just in case," also warns of front-desk fraudsters, or people who call your hotel room late at night when you’re likely sleeping and, thus, off guard. The caller pretends to be a front-desk clerk trying to resolve an issue with your credit card.
"It’s never the front desk calling. It’s a scammer. Don’t give them your number," he said.
"Identity thieves wait for summer vacation too," said Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for Experian’s ProtectMyID. "Not to take in some beautiful sights, but to take unsuspecting travelers’ information."
If you're a victim, don't panic. "There are steps you can take to recover," Chaplin said. They include:
File a police report and start making calls
If your wallet is stolen, call the issuers of your credit, debit and medical cards and your driver's license. Close accounts and get new numbers. You may get your wallet back, but don’t assume the thieves haven’t taken note of your card numbers and personal information.
Monitor account statements for several months
Be on the lookoutfor small and large purchases and services you did not authorize.
Contact credit bureaus and review credit reports
If your wallet is lost or stolen, monitor your credit reports to make sure new accounts aren’t opened in your name.
And if you’re heading out for several months, consider putting a fraud alert on your credit report that tells lenders or service providers to take extra precautions before granting credit in your name. "It’s free and if you notify any one of the three credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax or TransUnion — they will notify the others," Kirchheimer said.
A more secure option is a credit freeze that effectively puts your credit history off limits to everyone — including thieves. "There may be a fee from each credit reporting bureau to enact the freeze, and you’ll need to actively thaw that freeze later, but I consider that a good investment for some peace of mind while traveling," he said.
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