I admit to being called a few times by my bank with the dreaded question that always goes something like this: “We’ve noticed some suspicious activity on your card. Did you make the following purchases…?”

After assuring them that yes, I did make fatal mistake of buying ice cream in bulk 30 minutes away from my house (and yes, due to my lack of foresight, it melted everywhere), I was able to get off the phone relieved that my identity was safe. Some people aren’t as lucky and they come to find that their bank accounts have been compromised.

In light of Target and White Lodging facing massive data breaches, people are beginning to scrutinize the safety of their bank accounts and personal information. While identity theft can happen to anyone at any time, identity thieves regularly set their sights on people traveling for business. When you find yourself in a foreign environment with the sole purpose of making your company look good, it is easy to become distracted and confused, making you and your company a prime target for theft.

Before you lose all faith in humanity, we’re going to help restore it by giving you a few tips to help protect your identity while traveling for business.

  • Be careful with what you carry and where you carry it… Be sure to keep your important work and personal documents in your carryon luggage. Once you check your luggage, it is out of your hands until your flight arrives, leaving plenty of time for something to go wrong. While certain forms of identification are required to travel, keeping unnecessary forms on hand may put you at a higher risk of identity theft. Furthermore, losing important company documents before an important meeting is the last thing a weary traveler needs.
  • Use only trusted ATMs… Everyone has experienced the dread of being in a new environment and having to get cash quickly. Whether it is to cover your daily stipend, or because the only restaurant near you is cash only, using that sketchy ATM machine by the side of the road might start to look pretty good. Don’t do it! These machines sometimes have devices called skimmers attached to them that copy your information when you scan your card. Go to a trusted institution even if it is not yours. While it may be a pain, the extra effort is far better than to have to deal with identity theft in the future.
  • Be wary of Wi-Fi hotspots… When you’re traveling for business, you’re working all the time. In our technologically advanced world, this means having to use the Internet. The saying “some things are too good to be true” still applies to free Wi-Fi. As tempting as it may be to sign onto those full four bars, keep in mind that many of these connections are unencrypted and not secure. Some hackers even go as far as to buy routers and mimic a credible connection signal. If you are in a new area and unfamiliar with the local businesses, make sure to ask around before connecting to the “free Wi-F.” If you’re in dire need and you find yourself forced to connect to a suspicious hotspot, be sure to minimize your use of passwords and personal information.
  • Check your bank account regularly… If you’re preoccupied with all the stresses of being on a business trip, the idea of checking your account activity can easily end up on the back-burner. This is especially true of company credit cards that have multiple users or are used while traveling around and out of the country. Small businesses can be specifically targeted because they usually don’t have the resources or time to verify all expenditures on a frequently used card, but pouring over a long list of charges can be time well spent. Oftentimes, security breaches take months to be detected on a corporate level. Initially, only a small amount may be charged to test the card, but before you know it, substantial charges may begin to appear. And with the time that has passed, authorities will be less able to track down the culprit. Whether it is a personal or corporate credit card, it is worthwhile to keep an eye out for any unauthorized charges.

Yes, identity theft is a serious risk, especially when you’re traveling. But most credit card thieves are not criminal masterminds, just regular people taking advantage of unsuspecting prey. The best way to protect yourself, first and foremost, is to be attentive. Take note of your surroundings and stay a step ahead of the game. Outsmarting identity theft is less about being smart, and more about being cautious. To make things easier for yourself, we suggest signing up for CreditSignal®*, a free product that will help keep you informed and alert you of changes in your D&B business credit report.

Photo Credit: Don Hankins, Flickr

*CreditSignal only indicates that your D&B scores and ratings have changed and alerts you when your business credit file has been purchased. To view actual scores and ratings and learn about what industries are purchasing your D&B file, we recommend that you upgrade to one of our business credit monitoring or credit building solutions. Please note, due to the proprietary nature of these inquiries and inquiry requests, only the industries in which the purchasing customers reside will be revealed.