Travel season is upon us. Summertime is all about exploring new and exciting places. It's the season of planes, trains, automobiles and ... criminals. When you are out of your element and unsure of your surroundings, you are at a higher degree of risk. Travelers need to be on high alert for property crimes and identity theft.
Years ago, before my wife was my wife, she was traveling in Spain. She got off the plane, headed for the rental car terminal, rented her car, and drove off the lot. At the first stop sign, a man knocked on her passenger window and pointed, saying, "Tire, tire." She put the car in park and walked over to the passenger side. The tire was fine and the man was gone. So she got back in the car and found that her purse had disappeared from the front seat. Her driver's license, passport, cash, and credit cards were all gone. What a nightmare! When she went to the police, they asked, "Were you a victim of the flat tire scam?"
You'd think the rental car agency could have warned her. But the lesson here is that you cannot rely on others to protect you. You are ultimately responsible for your personal security.
Fortunately, she is a resourceful person and was able to handle the crisis quickly and efficiently. If your passport is ever lost or stolen in a foreign country, you can apply for an emergency replacement at the nearest embassy. Generally you'll need to show up in person, and it helps to have a traveling companion to vouch for you. The embassy will need to see some type of verification of your identity, and they'll likely request a copy of the police report.
When traveling, consider carrying your essential documents in a money belt or one that hangs from a lanyard around your neck, hidden under your shirt. You should always carry photocopies of your identification, but they won't do you any good if they're stored in the same purse that was just snatched from your rental car. One smart option is to scan all your pertinent documents in full color and upload them to a secure web-based encrypted digital vault. Some of these services are free, while others charge a small fee. In a pinch, you can download the necessary document from any computer with Internet access, and print a new copy.
For more information on coping with a lost or stolen password, see this list of frequently asked questions.
A lost or stolen credit card requires a different course of action, and its effectiveness largely depends on your preparation. Before traveling, call your card issuer and inquire about their policy for replacing a card. Pack a copy of your credit card that includes the front and back impression. If your credit card is lost or stolen, call the issuer and cancel the card as quickly as possible to mitigate any losses. In the best case scenario, the company should issue a replacement card and ship it overnight at no charge. Most card issuers will accommodate you, and if you find out ahead of time they won't, find another card issuer.
In an emergency, you can always ask a friend or family member to wire you money. When a U.S. citizen encounters an emergency financial situation abroad, the Department of State's Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) can establish a trust account in the citizen's name to forward funds overseas. Upon receipt of funds, OCS will transfer the money to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate for disbursement to the recipient. The State Department's travel website offers more details on emergency money transfers.
And always be sure to carry some spare cash. Tuck it in that money belt so even if your purse or wallet is stolen, you'll be in good shape.
Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert adviser to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses travel security on Fox News. (Disclosures)
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