5 Cyber Safety Tips for Travelers and Digital Nomads

How can you secure your online data when traveling? Learn how to keep your personal and financial information safe while using overseas SIM cards, Wi-Fi connections, and ATMs with these simple tips.


A digital nomad working from the back of his car Photo © Getty Images/Cavan Images

Just because you're traveling doesn't mean you should put yourself at risk of cybercrime. Here are 7 tips for keeping your personal and financial information safe when you're on the road.

1. Quick tips for personal data safety

Many travelers buy a local SIM card when they land in a new country to access the internet on their phones. That's fine. But at the end of your trip, make sure you destroy that SIM card. Do not throw it away intact, as your name is attached to it, and someone could use it to steal your information, impersonate you, or for criminal activities which could be linked to you.

When you're traveling, you may need to make an online purchase or do some online banking while connected to a public Wi-Fi network, such as in your hotel. Before you start, make sure your laptop or phone has cybersecurity software downloaded, such as Norton or McAfee. Then use this software to open a secure browser, which offers extra data protection while you execute this financial transaction.

Also, consider downloading a VPN (virtual private network) for both your phone and laptop. This service encrypts your data, giving you far greater protection against hackers. This is especially valuable when using public Wi-Fi connections, like those in hotels, airports, restaurants and cafes.

2. Choose your ATM wisely

Card skimming may be the single greatest digital threat to tourists. The FBI reported it costs banks and customers more than USD $1 billion a year, in the US alone. Card skimming occurs when criminals attach a small device to an ATM that captures your card’s data, which is used to charge purchases to your account. These criminals most commonly target ATMs that have poor security.

For 15 years, I’ve been very careful about which ATMs I use when traveling. This was prompted by having a large amount of money stolen from my bank account after I used an ATM in Thailand which had been tampered with by card-skimming fraudsters.

I was lucky my bank investigated and then refunded me the full amount. But there’s no guarantee you’ll be so fortunate, so protect yourself from ATM scammers.

Avoid using ATMs located inside convenience stores, or randomly attached to the wall on a quiet street. Such machines are easy for scammers to access without being noticed.

If possible, only use ATMs inside banks where security is high, there is CCTV and security guards, and card skimmers are far less likely to attach a device to an ATM there.

3. eVisa website scams are rife

The increasing availability of eVISAs has been a godsend for travelers. I used to dread having to print out and fill in a visa application before lining up to submit it at an embassy. Now many countries instead offer eVISAs, which you secure simply by filling in an application online.

However, scammers quickly recognized this as an opportunity. There are now many fraudulent websites that claim to be official government eVISA portals. I encountered this recently when I was applying for a Vietnam tourist eVISA and a Google search linked me to several dodgy websites.

Each claimed to be an official Vietnam eVISA page and looked very legitimate. Luckily, I wasn’t sucked in and followed a link on the Vietnam Embassy of Australia page to reach the real eVISA portal. Because these fake eVISA sites scam tourists in two ways.

Firstly, they get you to make an online payment for an eVISA you’ll never receive. Secondly, they harvest the bank card information you provide, which they can then use to steal money from your account. Before you apply for an eVISA, visit an embassy website to get a link to its official eVISA portal.

4. Your phone is as important as your passport

We store a massive amount of personal information in our smartphones, a lot of which a canny thief could hack into if they managed to get hold of this device. This is why, when traveling, I protect my phone as fiercely as my passport.

Police around the world report phones are now the chief target of street thieves because of their high value, how easily they can be stolen, and how readily they can be sold.

While traveling, don't leave your phone on a table at a café or restaurant, even right in front of you, as many thieves are so slick they can pinch it from under your nose. Often, an accomplice will distract you momentarily, and the thief will pounce.

Also, while walking around cities worldwide, avoid carrying your phone in your hand. Unless you’re actively using it, put it in a pocket or bag, because from London to Bangkok, thieves commonly snatch phones from the hands of pedestrians and dash away on foot or motorbike.

5. Don’t give your passport to money changer

It is common for money changers in airports to ask to make a copy of your passport. Only do this if you are in an environment that has hefty security, such as at an airport and bank. This document has lots of personal information that an identity fraud scammer could use to impersonate you online or even to create a copy of your passport. Why, then, would you give that information over to a stranger working at a random money-changing kiosk?

I’m happy to use these smaller businesses, which often have better rates than the banks. But I refuse to hand over my passport if they ask for it, and normally they don’t care and process my exchange anyway.

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