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While Your Clients Are Away, Cybercriminals Will Prey

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Travel seems to be on everyone’s calendar this summer. If that’s the case among your clients, safety and security are likely uppermost on their minds today. So great is their concern that 72% of U.S. travelers said they would pay more for their vacation if they could ensure greater security, according to a recent survey by Travelzoo. What travelers may not realize is that cybercrime is now as much a threat, if not more, than conventional dangers.

Whatever your clients’ travel plans, you can address the cybercrime safety and security issues they should be aware of — becoming a more trusted professional in the process — by reviewing the following checklist.

A Safe-Travel Cyber Checklist

Don’t discuss travel plans on social media. As I mentioned in my column last month, social media is great for keeping a client’s family and friends informed about their travels, but sharing can backfire if cybercriminals find out when clients are away and burgle their home. Remind clients not to post travel dates or itineraries, and to warn their children not to share their own or their parents’ travel plans — and never to reveal when no one is home.

Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Clients should always use secure connections when going online in public places. If they have to use an unsecured connection, remind clients never to check bank balances, login to credit card or other accounts, or share important personal information. This information can easily be stolen over an unsecure network. Also, remind clients to turn off Bluetooth and other connectivity features when in a public area, as these features can be just as vulnerable as Wi-Fi.

Be careful getting cash and making payments. Remind clients to be cautious of where they make payments or get cash, since these are the key access points for identity theft among cybercriminals. Using ATMs at a bank branch is safer than using standalone ATMs, and using a credit card for merchandise purchases is safer than using a debit card, which provides direct access to a bank account. Clients also should be sure their liability policy has identity theft coverage.

Turn off home computers. Many clients leave their computers on as a matter of habit, but always-on computers are more susceptible to hacking.

Back up all data. Storing all sensitive files in a secure facility on the cloud is recommended, as is backing up data onto a removable storage device that can be kept in a home safe.

Change passwords. If your client is taking an iPhone on their trip, suggest they change their Apple ID password to something long and difficult to hack. Also suggest that they remove credit card information associated with their Apple account and turn on the lock-screen passcode. That way, if their phone is lost or stolen, little information can be accessed. Also have them turn on the “Find My Phone” feature, which can help them find a misplaced or stolen device and the information stored on it.

Register for the Smart Traveler program. The State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at is a free service that allows citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy. Enrollment enables embassies to reach travelers in an emergency, as well as help family and friends contact the travelers.

Protect the home while away

Clients who will be gone for any period of time should take the following steps to protect their homes from cybercriminals: Alert the home alarm provider so they will know the house is vacant; ask their alarm company if they offer an encryption tool for their home security system to make it less vulnerable to hackers; disconnect the garage door opener and lock it manually to protect from criminals who can crack the electronic code; and unplug any devices or appliances connected to the internet.

Financial advisors, of course, are not expected to be security experts, but helping clients protect themselves, their families and their possessions while traveling is a valuable and appreciated service that your clients won’t forget.

— Read Alan Alda: How Advisors Can Communicate Better on ThinkAdisor.