How to Stay Safe from Cybercrime While Traveling Abroad

Cybercrime incidents for travelers are right up there with pickpocketing, so here's what you can do to stay safe while traveling abroad.

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Traveling to a new country for work, leisure, or vacation can be as exciting as it can be daunting. You want to make the most of your time abroad, so everything from flights to accommodation to sites to see and food and beverages to consume happens online. However, at any point, do you stop and take a moment to consider cyberattacks and cybersecurity when traveling or planning a trip?

The answer should be yes because cybercrime is as much of a threat as physical crime, especially when going on holiday or traveling to a new country.

The types of cybercrime experienced on vacation, image credit: ExpressVPN.

The types of cybercrime experienced on vacation, image credit: ExpressVPN.

According to ExpressVPN, a recent survey showed that 7% of travelers experienced some form of hacking or fell victim to a digital scam while traveling. This figure wasn't far off the 10% that experienced physical crime in the form of hotel room theft or pickpocketing.

Regarding cybercrimes, the most prominent digital threat to travelers is money-related digital fraud, followed by the risks of using unsecured internet or logging into a Public Wi-Fi service while out and about. Phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks are also prevalent. Also, social media accounts of those who share their movements while traveling are susceptible to hacking.

Be on the lookout for scams that are too good to be true deals.

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Travelers generally look for flight discounts, hotel accommodations, or travel within a country. With many reputable travel agents and resellers offering legitimate deals, it's a great way to save money. However, scams, fraudulent sites, and entities are looking to take your money and run. If you're looking at a great deal but have never heard of the website or company, it's best to research to verify their validity before parting with your hard-earned cash.

One way to gain peace of mind is to see if they are IATA verified. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) provides codes to legitimate agencies through a demanding accreditation process, and you can peruse the list of current members here. One thing you can do when looking at a potential deal is to ask the agency to provide their IATA code before purchase.

The IATA states that around 90% of all emails sent worldwide are spam or phishing attempts. With the rise of fake travel sites and deals, using verified agencies when booking travel is one way to ensure safety. While traveling, keeping tabs on sites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet is another great way to stay informed about local scams and other threats in your immediate surroundings.

Beware of logging into Public Wi-Fi networks.

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Airports, cafes, shopping complexes, museums, and just about any place you can visit while traveling offer free Public Wi-Fi that you can log into to check social media, post something, glance at emails, or communicate with friends and family. In our always-connected world, the abundance of high-speed Wi-Fi is terrific. But it's also dangerous, as many public Wi-Fi networks are unsecured or potentially fake. Some networks are set up by hackers with names similar to legitimate ones found in a hotel or popular location, with the express goal of distributing malware and monitoring activity.

It's easy to say, 'Avoid public Wi-Fi networks at all costs while traveling,' but what if you need to log in somewhere? Well, the best solution here would be to use a VPN service, as it hides what you're doing online from the network. If it's a secondary device like a laptop, the other option would be to simply use the data from your phone - after setting it up as a mobile hotspot/router. A good general rule for traveling would be to ensure that, by default, Wi-Fi is disabled on all your devices (Bluetooth, too) and only enabled when needed.

Keep your devices locked, keep your screens hidden from view, and be aware of USB charging stations.

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Keeping your devices locked with strong passwords and encryption is Cybersecurity 101 and something that goes without saying. Although 61% of U.S. travelers take cybersecurity precautions when traveling (according to a survey), that number drops dramatically when considering the physical side of those who could be watching as they enter a PIN code or password to glean some personal information off a screen.

Digital security when traveling is more than keeping your devices locked and files encrypted; it's about being aware of your immediate physical surroundings at all times - especially when using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop in a public or open space. Never leave a device unlocked; be mindful of what information might be visible. Keep sensitive documents and data encrypted.

And if you're using a public USB charging station (like at an airport), be mindful that these are still USB ports - and that cybercriminals can modify them to install malware or steal data. Portable batteries and USB chargers are readily available and offer more versatility, as well as the option to charge multiple devices when you're on the go.

Be mindful of what information you're sharing on Social Media.

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Social media account hacks account for roughly a third of all cybercrime incidents reported by travelers, and it's not hard to see why. With platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, X, and others, sharing experiences as they happen with friends, family, and even strangers is a key component of traveling in the 21st century.

With social media activity on a public account delivering real-time location data, victims of account hacking have revealed that they received phishing messages, tricking them into revealing personal information. Sharing in real-time can be akin to placing a target on yourself for scams or other cybercrimes. For U.S. travelers, 18% know someone who experienced privacy or security issues due to oversharing on social media while traveling.

If you're getting Travel Insurance, consider cybersecurity coverage.

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According to a survey of European travelers, countries that raised concerns about cybercrime included Türkiye, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States. Interestingly, the United States ranks among the Top 20 safest countries to visit regarding cybersecurity, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Australia also among the safest. The most unsafe destinations for cybersecurity include China, Vietnam, Türkiye, Thailand, and Mexico.

No matter the destination, there's always a risk, and for travelers who obtain insurance to cover the risk of physical theft and other issues, it's worth considering policies that include cybersecurity coverage. Going on a trip and staying safe from harm includes hackers, scammers, and digital privacy.

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