Travel tech security tips

Travel tech security tips

Summary: Whether you like holidaying with your gadgets or you're required to travel for work, there's going to come a time when you have to consider the safety of your gear, or the data it holds.


Top travel scams

Fake police

Con artists operate in every country, and one of the best tricks is a thief who is dressed as a police officer. Since you're a tourist, you may not know what the official uniform and badge look like. They may request to check your passport and search your belongings, and, once they're long gone, you'll realise that your smartphone is missing.

How to avoid: never hand anything over. If you must, then request that it be done at a police station.

Decoys and distractions

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Some examples of distraction techniques are: someone walking past and dropping their wallet, so that you chase after them to hand it back while their accomplice steals the bags you've left behind; and someone grabbing your attention with a shiny trinket while another person bumps into you from behind, lifting your phone out of your pocket or bag.

How to avoid: don't let yourself be distracted. Try to keep your belongings with you at all times, and don't keep valuables in your pockets or leave your bag open so that things can easily be lifted out.

Currency con

Most people would be unfamiliar with foreign currency, so some shop owners, taxi drivers, and so on will short change you.

How to avoid: try to make yourself familiar with the currency, and be aware of how much money you've handed over. If necessary, even say out loud "Here's 50 pounds", so you and the shopkeeper know exactly how much was handed over. You can also make yourself more aware of currency rates or the prices you're paying for goods by using a currency-conversion app like XE Currency.

(CC in jeans pocket image by Jenny W, royalty free)

Going for a ride

Naturally, you've not visited the country before, and are unfamiliar with the lay of the land, which taxi drivers do take advantage of by taking you on a "scenic tour." Once you get to your destination, you come to realise that a trip that should've only cost AU$20 came to a total of AU$50.

How to avoid: before you get in to the taxi, ask how much it costs to get to your destination, or even pretend that you're not a tourist or have been to that city before. Another way to avoid this is by using the GPS on your phone, and telling the driver which direction he should take.

Good Samaritans

You'll be taking a photo of your friend or partner when someone offers to take a photo of both of you. As you pose for the photo, that person runs off with your camera.

How to avoid: don't give strangers your camera.

Costly car rentals

When returning the car you've hired, some rental places will accept the keys and send you on your way, and it's not until you get home that you realise your credit card has been charged for damages to the vehicle.

How to avoid: check the car over, take photos when you pick it up, and make note of any damages that already exist on the vehicle. When you return the vehicle, take photos of the car again at all angles, showing that there is no damage, and point this out to the dealer so they can write it down. Make sure you request a copy.

Reception desk calls

You've called it a day and have settled into your hotel room when you receive a call from reception asking to verify your credit card details. You read out the details and then go to bed. Unfortunately, that was not the hotel's reception desk, and you'll find out that you've just racked up charges on your credit card for things you haven't purchased.

How to avoid: don't give out your credit card or passport details over the phone; do it in person.

Public Wi-Fi hack

Some thieves offer free Wi-Fi or even set up a network with a similar network ID to a cafe's service, so while you log in to the network, they're watching your every move and stealing any passwords you enter.

How to avoid: check with the cafe owner what the exact network ID is — or, even better, don't use public Wi-Fi.

Topics: Travel Tech, Security

Irene Mickaiel

About Irene Mickaiel

Irene is product manager in Australia for CBS Interactive sites such as CNET Australia, GameSpot,, ZDNet and TechRepublic. Before Irene became hooked on IT media, she worked on illustrated reference, lifestyle and education books.

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  • Interesting Article...

    Not every single item applies to every single person, but it is a good reminder to be vigilant. I would also say that flying first class can help avoid many of these issues as well. You usually get a separate lounge to wait in and on many flights are in a completely different part of the cabin than others. The chances of a thief paying for a first class ticket is a lot less likely.

    The one item that I disagree with is "Regularly back up your memory cards to USB drives or DVDs, and mail a copy home."
    You should use an online photo service that will let you redownload full resolution images (SmugMug is a great one) and backup nightly to it (yes, using public WiFi if necessary). This avoids the possibility of the mail getting lost or stolen.
  • Backup to cloud or disc

    That's a fair point and a very good idea. Of course, I have been in many towns in poorer countries where finding a computer with Internet is one thing, but uploading even a single high-res image is unthinkable.

    Oh how I wish I could add flying first class to my preventative steps ha!