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Do your best to protect your identity — Curt Yeomans

Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.

Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.

One of the biggest fears I had before I went on a European trip in 2009 was how I could protect myself from being the victim of a pickpocket.

I had heard the stories of thieves in Europe using babies to distract people, while a cohort snatched their wallets. I’d also heard the stories about other thieves, who would engage passersby in games, while a cohort would snatch wallets from people who stopped to stare.

I had been the victim of a pickpocket before, and that was in New Orleans. I was not keen on going through that in a foreign country, so I did some research on some tips that I could use to protect myself.

I bring this up because USA Today ran an article earlier this week about travelers being at “high risk” of becoming victims of identity theft. The article points out that the risk of identify theft is particularly high in places where large numbers of people are utilizing access to unsecured wireless networks, such as airports and hotels. The article also highlights more traditional threats, such as a thief watching someone use their credit or debit card, and writing down the card number for future use.

The article contains an alarming statistic from Todd Davis, the chief executive officer with the identity-theft-protection company, LifeLock. He is quoted as saying people are 15 times more likely to have their identity stolen than they are to have their car broken into.

All of this makes me think back to some of the tips, and tricks, that I have picked up through my travels. Your goal should be to make it as difficult as possible for people to get access to your identity and your money. Every time I’ve gone to Europe, I have taken two wallets with me. It might seem like a curious thing to do, but one of the wallets was an empty decoy. I kept it in my back pants pocket, so any pickpocket considering me as a potential victim would take the decoy, while my real wallet stayed in a pocket, in the interior of my coat.

The coat, in turn, stayed zipped up while I was overseas, unless I had to take my wallet out to pay for something. Then, I quickly put it back in my coat’s inside pocket, and zipped the coat up.

Now, wearing a leather coat, zipped up in July, might seem like odd behavior, but the temperatures are considerably cooler in England and Ireland at that time of year, so it wasn’t completely bad. And Paris? Well, it just made me look like the Parisians, who were also wearing leather coats while out and about.

Another thing I do, and this is actually something I do at local stores in everyday life –– I lean in close over the card-swipe machine while I’m using it. When I go to type in my pin code, I cover the key pad with as much of my hand as possible, and I manuever my body so that people behind me can’t see the code I’m typing.

I also cover as much of the card with my hand as possible as I’m swiping it through the machine. You should take the same steps with ATMs, basically to the point where you are practically pressing your body against it.

And, of course, try to stay off unsecured wireless Internet connections as much as possible. Usually, your hotel will have a public access computer area, so you can use that to access e-mails, and find directions to sites, and such.

You should have put enough money in your financial accounts to cover you while you’re on your trip, and you can use old-fashioned handwriting and math skills to keep track of how much money you’ve spent. Keep in mind that people were traveling long before the advent of the computer, and they were perfectly fine back in the old days

Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.