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Don't let identity theft ruin your summer vacation — here's what to look out for

Victims of Identity Theft
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With summer vacations getting underway, searches for “avoid ID theft” have skyrocketed by 1,600 percent online as travelers look to protect themselves from identity theft ahead of their next big trip.

To determine if traveling heightens people’s anxieties about identity theft, security researchers from the cybersecurity firm McAfee analyzed Google Search trends to find a major uptick in the number of users concerned about falling victim to identity theft this summer.

Likewise, searches for “worst city for pickpockets” increased by 400 percent ahead of the summer travel season. While pickpocketing isn’t a cybercrime, it can be used to facilitate a number of online attacks including fraud and identity theft as an attacker can find out quite a bit more information about you and make fraudulent charges to your credit cards with your wallet and driver’s license in hand.

If you want to avoid being pickpocketed this summer, Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Madrid and Paris are some of the most well-known places where this crime often occurs. This is likely due to the fact that they are some of the most highly coveted summer travel spots in Europe which are packed with tourists each year.

As identity theft can often take months or even years to recover from, knowing what to be on the lookout for along with some simple steps you can take to be more secure while traveling can make all the difference between a summer vacation you’ll look back on fondly and one you’ll regret taking.

Different types of identity theft

Stolen credit card

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According to a new blog post (opens in new tab) from McAfee these are the five most common types of identity theft: financial identity theft, medical identity theft, criminal identity theft, synthetic identity theft and child identity theft.

Of these, financial identity theft is probably the one you’re most familiar with as it involves a cybercriminal stealing your financial information like your credit card number to make fraudulent purchases. The others are less widely known but you should still be aware of them to protect your identity online.

Medical identity theft for instance involves someone stealing your personal information to obtain health care services. In this case, someone may use your identity to obtain prescription drugs. Criminal identity theft occurs when someone else uses your name when arrested. If this happens, you’ll likely receive a court summons that you had no involvement with which may leave you quite confused.

Synthetic identity theft, on the other hand, is relatively new and it involves a cybercriminal creating a fake identity using your real information. For instance, they might create a fake identity using your real birth date and Social Security number to apply for a loan.

Finally, child identity theft is where a cybercriminal uses the personal information of a minor to commit bank fraud or another form of identity theft. Since children aren’t regularly monitoring their credit, this type of identity theft can often go undetected until they become of age and want to apply for a credit card or loan.

When it came to the most reported types of identity theft last year, the FTC (opens in new tab) reported that over 300,000 people reported falling victim to credit card fraud or other types of identity theft. Meanwhile, 264,000 people reported that fraud was committed using their government documents or benefits. Over 100,000 people reported falling victim to loan or lease fraud, bank fraud and employment or tax-related fraud while phone or utilities fraud affected more than 80,000 people last year.

Places to avoid traveling to in the U.S. if you’re worried about identity theft

As many people don’t yet feel comfortable traveling overseas after the pandemic, you may be planning to travel within the U.S. this summer. However, there are certain states and cities you may want to avoid if identity theft is a pressing concern.

Of the 50 states in the U.S., Rhode Island had the most reported cases of identity theft last year with 2,857 reports per 100,000 residents. Kansas took the second spot with 1,355 reports followed by Illinois with 924 while Louisiana and Georgia round out the top five at 732 and 618 reports, respectively.

When it comes to the metro areas with the highest cases of identity theft, Providence, Rhode Island took the top spot with 1,981 per 100,000 residents. Lawrence, Kansas came in second with 1,779 reported cases followed by Topeka, Kansas with 1,548. Wichita, Kansas came in fourth with Lafayette, Louisiana rounding out the top five.

The age groups that are most likely to fall victim to identity theft

Senior cell phone plans

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With so much of our personal information available online these days, anyone can fall victim to identity theft. However, as McAfee notes, certain age groups are more likely to experience different types of scams.

For instance, baby boomers are more susceptible to scams like benefits fraud while millennials who have grown up with the internet are more likely to fall victim to credit card fraud as they prefer to shop online.

Based on FTC data from last year, almost 200,000 baby boomers or older fell victim to identity theft last year which means they’re slightly more susceptible than Gen Z at 145,000. Surprisingly, Gen X was hit the hardest by identity theft with 555,000 members of this age group falling victim followed by just over 500,000 millennials.

What to do first if you think your identity has been stolen

To avoid falling victim to identity theft, you should always be on the lookout for signs that someone has stolen your identity. You can do this by regularly checking your bank statements and credit reports to look for extra chargers to your account. However, you should also be mindful of red flags like bills that arrive at your home with your information but someone else’s name, mysterious calls from debt collectors or emails from new online accounts that you don’t remember registering for.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, the first thing you should do is reach out to law enforcement as some banks may require that you show them a police report before being reimbursed for fraudulent charges or withdrawals. You should also contact the company where your identity is being used and let them know what’s happened.

From here, you should get in touch with three big credit bureaus and call or message TransUnion, Equifax and Experian right away. By doing so, they may be able to help diminish the impact identity theft has on your credit score. However, you can also report identity fraud to the FTC to help spread awareness of the various scams and tactics currently being used by cybercriminals. The Identity Theft Resource Center (opens in new tab) is another helpful tool that can teach you how to prevent identity theft or aid you in recovering your identity.

Don’t let identity theft put a damper on your summer vacation

Airport Wi-Fi

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Some other things you may want to consider before setting out on your next big trip are installing a VPN on our smartphone so that you can stay secure on public Wi-Fi and checking your travel apps to make sure that they aren’t requesting any unnecessary permissions like access to your microphone, camera or camera roll.

Still though, with the right planning and awareness, you can have a wonderful trip this summer without worrying about unintended consequences when you get home. However, if you do think you may have fallen victim to identity theft, it’s always best to take action sooner rather than later to minimize the impact to your online accounts and your credit score.

Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.