Spring Break is almost here and many of us will hit the air or roadway. Travelers and tourists are a dream for thieves. They typically carry plenty of cash and valuables. They often have smartphones full of personal information. And, they can easily get caught up in the sights and forget to be aware of their surroundings.
While the threat of losing money, jewelry or a camera is bad enough, there’s also the risk of identity theft. Each year, criminal activity related to identity fraud totals $15 billion in the U.S. alone. The cost is more than financial. It can be maddening to try and get everything back in order.
That’s why it’s important to protect yourself, even when you’re on the go. Here are seven ways to do just that, from USA Today, the U.S. Justice Department and even the U.S. Department of State.
Don’t be scared of cash. You don’t want to carry around too much, of course, because it’s not replaceable. But, unlike credit cards, having money stolen won’t add to your risk of identity theft. You can still use cards, particularly to take advantage of your card’s purchase protection when buying expensive items. Just think about whether the merchant or restaurant is likely to have a secure system. If you do prefer cards over cash, don’t take every single card you own, and do check your statements carefully when you return.
Watch where you get and keep cash. Use ATMs affiliated with banks you know, if at all possible. Your travel partner should stand behind you to keep others from viewing your PIN. Watch for “skimmers,” too — thieves install these devices on legitimate ATMs and other card readers to capture your information, and they’re hard to spot. If anything looks different about where you swipe your card, avoid that machine. And, once you have your cash, keep it somewhere secure, such as in a front, or hidden pocket with a zipper, or a bag you can wear across your body.
Lock your smartphone and computer. Our phones and computers are full of personal information, and auto-login features for apps, including financial ones, can be a bonanza for thieves who gain access. Lock your devices with a code only you know, and don’t make it obvious, like “1234.” Also, some phones have a remote-shutdown feature, so you can wipe its contents if it’s lost. Enable this at home, before leaving for your trip.
Be careful with wireless. Public wi-fi access is convenient, and dangerous. Others on the same free or shared network may be able to see the data, such as passwords and credit card numbers, you transmit. Avoid logging in to financial websites, if possible. If not, stick to encrypted websites (with “https” at the beginning) and log out after each session. Update your password the next time you’re on a secure network.
Always stay alert. When you’re in public, beware of crowds, disturbances or people “accidentally” bumping into you. These are common ways pickpockets steal items without being detected. Don’t sleep while using public transportation, even long train or bus rides. And, each place you go, locate the nearest exit so you can escape a dangerous situation if needed.
Use the hotel safe. They aren’t perfect, but storing your passport and other important things in the safe while you’re out and about is far better than leaving them out in your room. It is best to leave some things behind while you’re exploring. Using your passport everywhere for identification, for example, puts you at risk of losing it.
Don’t forget the home front. While you’re away, burglars could gain access to the personal information you have at home. Stop your mail and newspaper delivery, or arrange for a neighbor to pick it up daily. Leave a few lights on or put them on timers so it looks like someone’s home. And, keep your important documents in a secure place. A home safe is great, or you could even consider a safe-deposit box, if necessary.
By taking just a few precautions, you can increase the likelihood that your trip will be enjoyable, or that it at least won’t end in a financial disaster.
Did you know that a burglary happens every 20 seconds in the U.S., according to the FBI?1
Your home is one of your most valuable possessions, along with everything inside. It is a place you want to feel safe and secure from the potential dangers of the outside world. Employing and engaging in some basic best practices around home security is the first step to help create a secure environment for your loved ones and family.
Consider these tips to help keep you and your family, and your possessions, safe and secure.
Landscape with safety in mind. As you walk around your property, look for areas that could be potential hiding spots for thieves, who prize the privacy they provide. Try and clear away any overgrown areas.
Talk with your local police department. Ask your police department to come and inspect your home and property and provide suggestions to increase home security. They can also offer insight on past break-in trends in your area.
Know your neighbors. Take the time to meet and engage with people on your street and encourage them to watch out for any suspicious activity when you are not home.
Lighting matters. Lighting can set the right ambiance inside your home, but outdoor lighting can be the difference between your home being targeted – or not – by thieves. Motion-sensitive fixtures can help add security and provide light when needed. Also consider using automatic timers or a smart lightbulb that can be controlled remotely to turn lights on and off in various parts of the house to help make it seem like you are home.
Avoid advertising that shopping spree. Thieves look for and steal newly-delivered boxes on your front porch, a method called porch pirating, so consider having them delivered elsewhere or requiring a signature for delivery. Thieves may also look at clues provided by your trash or recycling, which may indicate the new computer or flat-screen television inside.
Set a safety routine. Make sure you establish a routine where you regularly lock all doors, shut windows and turn on your alarm system every time you leave your home. Avoid leaving spare keys outside, under a planter or under a welcome mat, as thieves know most of the potential hiding places.
Manage visibility. Make sure you can see who is at your front door without opening it. Avoid placing valuables where they will be visible from the street, and do not place your home alarm panel in a place where people can see you arming it from the outside.
Protect your outdoor valuables. Burglars also target sheds, garages and other outdoor buildings. Secure your grill, lawn mower, bicycles and other outdoor gear.
Create a plan for when you are away. Hold your mail, stop your papers and ask a friend or neighbor to remove flyers from your property. Arrange for lawn care so you do not advertise when you are away from home.
Not texting is a great start, but there's more to safe driving
Here's the bad news: Distracted driving causes thousands of accidents every year, many of them fatal. The good news? If you're driving, it's 100% preventable.
You've seen them around your city or town. You may know a few of them.
And you might even be one yourself.
Distracted drivers come in all shapes and sizes, all makes and models. And even if you're not one today, you could become one at any moment—in the time it takes you to answer your phone, or check the kids in the back seat.
But before you say, "I can talk on my phone and drive just fine," think about this: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2016 nearly 400,000 people were injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers—and in 2015, more than 3,400 were killed.
It's not just about texting, either. Although that is perhaps the most dangerous distraction, there are many others that can impact how you drive, whether you realize it or not. And they can be just as deadly.
Here are just a few of the things that can distract drivers on the road:
Talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device
Eating or drinking
Talking to passengers
Grooming (yes, there really are people who apply makeup or shave on their way to work)
Reading, including maps
Adjusting the stereo
Younger drivers are the most distracted of all—according to the NHTSA, teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
With distractions more prevalent than ever—nearly 800 billion text messages are sent in the U.S. every month, for example—how can you, and those you love, be safer behind the wheel? Here are a few tips:
Don't use the phone: This includes texting as well as talking, unless it's an emergency. Even hands-free conversations can take your attention off the road.
Eat before you leave, or after you get there: Scarfing down that burger with one hand on the wheel means your focus is divided—and you probably don't have as much control over your car as you should. Bonus benefit: Keeping your meals and your driving separate means you're much less likely to get ketchup on your pants.
Know where you're going: Nobody likes to be lost. But messing around with your car's GPS (or the maps app on your smartphone) while you're moving can lead to something you'll hate even more—an accident.
Talk to your family about safe driving: Having a conversation with your spouse as they're driving home? That's a perfect opportunity to say, "I'll let you focus on the road; we can talk when you get here." And if you have young drivers in the household, be sure to have a conversation about their phones and other potential issues, such as their passengers—a key distraction for teens.
Watch for other distracted drivers: Just because you aren't distracted doesn't mean that other drivers are focused on safe driving. Stay in control and be vigilant—you'll be ready to react when someone else makes the wrong move.
Distracted driving isn't just "one of those things" that happens, like a tire blowout or mechanical failure that isn't anyone's fault. It's 100% preventable—and by committing to avoiding distractions while you drive, you'll help make the road safer for everyone.
From our offices in Weatherford, Texas, we serve clients anywhere in the State of Texas, though the following areas are geographically closest to us: the counties of Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Wise, Johnson, Parker and Hood and the cities of Arlington, Bedford, Brock, Burleson, Cleburne, Colleyville, Coppell, Dallas, Decatur, Euless, Fort Worth, Frisco, Granbury, Grapevine, Hurst, Keller, Mansfield, Millsap, Mineral Wells, North Richland Hills, Southlake, Watauga, Weatherford, and White Settlement.