Scrambling to book an end of summer getaway this Labor Day weekend?
According AAA Travel, an estimated 34.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend this year -- the highest number of travelers during this time since 2008. This is a prime time for criminals and hackers to cash in. Vacation scams cost consumers $10 billion each year, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Before scouring the web for last-minute bargains and preparing to depart, consider these online safety precautions:
Be on alert for fake vacation offers. Scammers often hijack legitimate listings for rental properties, making themselves the contact person and then posting a fake version of the same ad to Craiglist. Their goal is to get a person to pay a large security deposit or the full rental amount up front.
Those who are caught are out their vacation dollars and a place to stay. A traveler could show up at the address listed -- and the rental property won't exist. Or after running into the legitimate owner or property manager, the vacationer will learn that she never received the money or a reservation.
Vet the property and rental agency with the Better Business Bureau or a chamber of commerce. Only use reputable and well-known sites. Never wire money. Always pay with a credit card so as to have a way to recover the funds.
Got an airline loyalty account? Look out for phishing attacks. Phony emails, sent under the guise of airline offers, are really phishing attacks designed to get someone to click on a link and provide an ID number and password for an airline loyalty account. Some of the legitimate sites even store customer credit card numbers -- so if a hacker manages to gain access, it could prove disastrous.
According to air travel analyst Rick Seaney, American Airlines and Delta have warned customers about phishing scams this year. This past June, phishing attacks – in general -- were at an all-time high, accounting for $400 million in global losses, reported SC Magazine.
Always type the correct URL into the browser. Never click on a link in an unsolicited email and make sure URLs and websites visited use secure sockets layer (or SSL). This establishes secure encryption for information that's transmitted. Sites that use this type of encryption start with https:// and usually show a padlock or a shield icon in the address bar.
Stay clear of airport and airplane Wi-Fi. A lot of travelers appreciate the capability to catch up on email and news while traveling. This has downsides, however, as connecting to airport Wi-Fi or even the Wi-Fi available on commercial flights can put someone at risk. Providers of in-flight Wi-Fi provide a secure encrypted connection only to collect a payment by credit card.
Any transaction the user performs -- online shopping, paying a bill or even checking email is done over an unsecured network. This can leave the user vulnerable to hackers seeking to eavesdrop on a session and steal financial information.
Work on a local copy of Excel or Word documents and upload them later to an online Google drive or Dropbox account. Or keep that laptop with sensitive information stored in the upper bin. Pick up a local paper or hardbound book to enjoy during the flight.
Keep any laptop close. The Ponemon Institute reported in 2008 that 12,000 laptops go missing each week at crowded airports. Research shows that most cases of stolen laptop cases at airports occur via passenger theft. With all the commotion that takes place at security checks, there have been incidences when a laptop is picked up by someone other than the rightful owner. Laptop theft damages can range from $500 to $2,000, and if taken by the wrong person an even greater loss could be the seizure of sensitive data.
The majority of stolen laptops are never recovered. During flights, keep a close eye on belongings, including the laptop, especially while going through security. Be sure to install tracking software before leaving so it's possible locate the device in case it winds up missing. It’s also a best practice to set up a laptop operating system with a user account and password. This gives a second layer of protection in the event of loss or theft.
Avoid hotel fraudsters. Be wary of calls supposedly from the front desk that claim there's a problem with the credit card given. It’s likely someone who's masquerading as hotel staff. Scammers also have been known to slide takeout menus under hotel doors in the hopes that travelers will call the phone number listed to order in after a long day. But after managing to steal credit-card details, the only thing delivered is a huge credit card bill.
Never give out a credit-card number over the phone. Upon receipt of a coupon or menu under the hotel door, check with the hotel concierge first. Be wary if the offer seems too good to be true.
Using hotel Wi-Fi? Make sure that the Wi-Fi network access actually belongs to the hotel. Fraudsters have been known to sit in hotel lobbies and create an evil twin, a type of rogue network that looks eerily similar to one that's legitimate. A cybercriminal can use this network to entice a person to install malware -- and then steal private information.
Beware of pop-up windows that ask for a program update or installing software and be sure any antivirus and firewall software is up-to-date. A fail-safe is to do online banking tasks and pay bills before leaving or wait until returning. Don’t become a statistic this Labor Day. By playing it safe, avoid being burned while enjoying one last end-of-summer celebration.