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How to keep your vacation safe and secure

53068853_MSummer is by far the busiest season for family vacations in the United States. Unfortunately, scammers, con artists and thieves also know that many people let down their guard in the lazy, hazy days of summer, making them vulnerable targets. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to avoid being a victim as you prepare to travel — and while you’re away. Here are some of the most effective tips and security practices to keep crooks from spoiling your vacation:

Do your homework with rental homes, condos, beach houses, mountain cabins

It’s never been easier to find the perfect place to stay; you merely have to click on the keyboard. The Federal Trade Commission, however, cautions that there are scammers who lift property information and photos from real listings, replacing the real owner’s contact information with his own and posting elsewhere. Sometimes, the fraudster will post a phantom listing, promising all kinds of amenities at a great rate. Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Use a credit card. Be wary if the owner asks you to pay by wire transfer. It’s like cash and you may never see it again.
  • An “overseas” owner is a red flag. If you are traveling overseas, use a credit card rather than depositing money in a foreign bank.
  • Consider using only reputable travel websites to book your stay. Look for sites that use secure payment portals or that don’t give the owner your money until after you’ve checked in.
  • Mapping apps like Google Maps™ or others are excellent ways to confirm a property actually exists.

Learn the signs of a scam

Scammers will often use the same marketing methods as legitimate vacation spots — emails, phone calls, advertisements or texts — promising low-cost or free vacations. But there are some red flags to look for:

  • The company requires you to pay fees before your “free” vacation. A legitimate company would not ask you to pay for a prize, and a legitimate company will tell you what you must do in exchange for your freebie, such as attend a timeshare presentation, or pay all taxes and fees. Find out what your costs are before you agree to anything.
  • The prize company wants your credit card number. No legitimate company needs your credit card to verify your identity or eligibility for a prize.
  • If you get the offer out of the blue, with a phone call, text or email from a company you’ve never heard of, it might be a scam. You can call the National Association of Attorneys General and local consumer protection agencies in the company’s home state to check on complaints. Another way is to search online by the company’s name combined with the words “complaints” or “scam” to learn what others are saying.
  • They won’t give you specifics. A scammer might promise a stay at a five-star resort or a cruise on a luxury ship, but if they won’t name the company, be suspicious. Get the specifics in writing and check the resort’s address or for photos of any cruise ship.
  • You get a robocall about it. These are almost always illegal if you haven’t given a company written permission to call you. Hang up and don’t trust such a company with your vacation.

Stay cyber safe as you travel

  • We’re all in a bit of pickle when it comes to travel, aren’t we? We need our mobile devices more than ever for navigation, entertainment and must-see tips. But the more we use the Internet — while traveling or at home — the more cyber risks we’re taking. Here are some cybersecurity tips for travelers from the Department of Homeland Security:
  • Before you go, update the apps and software on your mobile device. This will make it less vulnerable to malware. Also, back up your contacts, photos and videos and other device data to the cloud or a storage device. Get in the habit of keeping your device locked, and be sure to use a strong password or PIN.
  • Disable your device from auto-connecting to every network and also disable Bluetooth when it’s not in use. Never do shopping or banking — anything with money involved — while on a public network. Tempted to log in to your credit card account via a public computer in a library or coffee shop? There’s no way of knowing whether malware is installed, so it’s best to refrain.
  • Protect your device itself. To do this, always use a password to access your device and don’t advertise that you have a laptop or mobile device. If you’re a frequent traveler, consider buying an alarm or a lock so you can secure your laptop to a piece of furniture.

We at First Utah Bank, your community bank, wish you safe — and cyber secure — travels this summer!