Got an upcoming vacation on the brain? Bon voyage. But if you take your valuables with you, there’s a chance you may never see them again.
Thieves, scammers and other crafty lowlifes would love to separate you from your stuff. Especially in the midst of the holiday chaos.
Fortunately, there are numerous ways to foil them. Here are some practical ways to avoid being a victim, courtesy of undercover detective and travel-related crime specialist, lecturer and author Kevin Coffey.
One guy woke up to find his phone gone, used the FindMyPhone app on his laptop, and heard the phone ringing in a woman’s purse ten rows back. He was lucky, but better to stash it.
1. Never put your wallet in your back pocket. Pickpockets call it the sucker pocket for a reason. Be hyper-vigilant in train stations, airports, on stairs and escalators and in crowded places where pickpockets are likely to congregate and try to bump into you. Hold messenger bags in front of you and wear them cross-body, and get a zipper lock for your backpack.
2. There are two types of luggage in this world: lost and carry-on. If you have to check a bag, think of it like you’ll never see it again and pack accordingly. Always put your passport, ID, prescriptions, laptops and other devices in your carry-on. Remove all non-essential credit cards from your wallet—fewer to replace if it gets stolen.
3. Put a TSA-approved lock on any checked bags. The lock has to be reset by you, but you can instantly tell if it has been opened and check if there’s anything missing before you leave the airport.
4. Dishonest baggage handlers can force open a zippered bag with a pen, steal your stuff and reseal the zipper, and you wouldn’t realize until you got home or to your hotel. You can buy a gadget that locks the zipper to the handle. A thief can penetrate the zipper but can’t reseal it, so you’d know it was breached and could report it immediately.
5. Keep your cell phone out of sight when not in use—in restaurants, bars, or on your flight when you leave your seat or fall asleep. One guy woke up to find his phone gone, used the FindMyPhone app on his laptop, and heard the phone ringing in a woman’s purse ten rows back. He was lucky, but better to stash it.
6. On a plane, place your carry-on in the overhead bin across the aisle from your seat so you can see if someone tries to remove something from your bag. Put valuable items inside under clothing rather than in outside zippered compartments, or at least make them tougher to reach by placing them in the bin so they can’t be accessed without taking the whole bag down.
7. In hotels, make sure your door clicks securely behind you and use the front desk safe instead of the in-room one if it doesn’t seem secure. Thieves often enter open hotel rooms when the maid is inside, pretending the room is theirs, so never leave valuables in plain sight. There are portable safes made of stainless steel mesh that fit inside a backpack and can be secured to the furniture. The only way to crack it open is with wire cutters, which thieves are unlikely to carry.
8. Always lock all rental car doors to stop thieves from reaching in and stealing your stuff.
9. Use covered luggage tags so your information—like your home address—is not exposed. Place a card with an emergency number and email address inside your wallet and luggage in case they’re lost or stolen. Pick a number someone is sure to answer.
10. Don’t use free WiFi sites to log into banking or other personal accounts or any sites requiring you to give credit card information. Many are scams.
11. Buy tote or messenger bags that have detachable straps so you can loop them through your chair at a restaurant.
12. Before you get in a taxi, find out approximately what it costs to get to your destination and discuss it with the driver before he starts the meter. Sometimes a dishonest cabbie will insist that you gave him a smaller bill than you did, showing you that denomination and demanding more. Solution: When you hand him the money, say, “This is a 50,” and get him to acknowledge it.
Find more tips and security products for sale at Coffey’s site, corporatetravelsafety.com.