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Travel Crisis Averted: Tips to keep your international travels safe and secure
June 21, 2016
You’ve decided a swim in the hotel pool would be relaxing. You leave your cell phone in the room and head to the pool. After returning to your room, you notice that the SIM card was removed from your phone. When you get home, you get a call from the phone company. It seems someone racked up hundreds of dollars in international phone calls on your account.
After checking into your hotel, you go for a short walk. When you return to your room, you notice that your belongings were searched. There was no effort to conceal the search.
Someone calls and falsely states that a loved one has been kidnapped. To insure their safe release, you’re asked to deposit money in a specific bank account.
After arriving at your hotel, you decide to plug your laptop into the local network. Immediately, you get a popup stating that your operating system is out of date and that you need to install the required updates. You install the updates and continue with your trip. When you return home, you hand the laptop to the office IT people. Later you get a call saying the laptop was full of spyware.
These are not unusual scenarios. Business travelers face these risks – and more – every day. A recent Ipso Global Advisor study asked travelers about their concerns and preparations for traveling abroad. The report found that 8 in 10 travelers worried about their personal safety, yet less than 4 in 10 travelers did any research about crime and neighborhoods to avoid, safety standards of public transport or security features of their accommodations.The primary concern of Business travelers is robbery, with terrorism coming in second. Being stranded due to a lockdown or curfew came in third and an in-flight terror incident or major health risk such as SARS, Ebola or Zika came in fourth. Travelers also expressed concern with identity theft, political instability and kidnapping according to a study by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Business Traveler Magazine and American Express Global Business Travel. Although these events are headliners when they occur, the more frequent event for travelers is illness. Of the approximately 50 million travelers each year, about 8% or 4 million people become ill enough to seek medical attention, according to an infographic “Business Travel Risks” posted by Risk Management Magazine. We advise that travelers procure overseas medical coverage. Some US medical companies will provide coverage, both under corporate and personal medical policies, but it may be beneficial to consider traveler’s insurance to help provide medical care or an emergency flight back home if needed. Check for health alerts (Zika virus in Brazil, for example) and make sure you have recommended vaccinations and know where the nearest English-speaking doctor might be in the country you are visiting.
Before you go The US Department of Justice’s website “Safety and security for the business professional traveling abroad” says that business travelers need to take precautions when traveling for business overseas3. Here’s a summary of what is recommended:
- Scan passport, travel itinerary, driver’s license and credit cards. Email them to yourself so you can have access to the information in the event they get lost or stolen.
- Plan your wardrobe so that it doesn’t offend or draw unwanted attention. Travelers that are perceived as wealthy are targeted for pick pocketing and other crimes. Do not wear expensive-looking jewelry and don’t flaunt your nationality.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with your family and your office, including a list of contacts for your foreign hosts in case of an emergency. Register your trip with the State Department.
- Check with your doctor about any needed pre-trip medical care long before your departure date and obtain medical I.D. bracelets that alert medical personnel to conditions or allergies.
- Check the US Department of State’s website for travel warnings. Sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), a free service that allows you to receive information about safety conditions in your destination country.
- "Sanitize" your laptop and smart phone prior to travel to ensure that no sensitive contact, research or personal data is on them. Back-up all information you take and leave that at home. Or better yet, consider leaving the laptop or phone at home and use a “clean” version that contains no proprietary information.
- Use up-to-date antivirus, spyware, security patches and firewalls. Entities in foreign countries have been known to push fake security updates when a user connects to the local network. They then install malware and spyware on the user’s computer.
- Never store valuables or electronics in checked luggage.
- Pre-plan your transportation.
- Know who to call if you run into trouble. Obtain the phone number and address for the US Embassy or Consulate in the country/s you plan to visit.
During your stay
- Protect your passport
- Do not develop a routine or travel the same path.
- Use authorized taxis, not unscheduled taxis.
- Do not advertise wealth or corporate identity.
- Do not carry large amounts of cash.
- Do not leave drinks unattended – someone could slip a drug into it that causes amnesia and sleep.
- Beware of new acquaintances who probe for information about you or who attempt to get you involved in what could become a compromising situation.
- Be aware of your surroundings – conversations may not be private or secure.
- Do not leave electronic devices unattended.
- Clear your internet browser after each use.
- Don’t log in to public networks – such as cafes or hotels.
Upon your return
- Review your system access with your company’s Information Security Officer.
- Change all passwords including voicemail and check electronic devices for malware.
What a risk manager can do to help
Travel is an integral part of conducting business in our global economy and as such needs to be conducted with Duty of Care standards in mind. According to On Call International LLC, 80% of business travelers think their companies have a legal obligation to protect them when traveling abroad. That means companies need to be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to any travel-related incident, health scares, natural disasters, political unrest and terrorism. Insurance products such as Business Travel Accident and Kidnap & Ransom policies are available, respectively providing travel assistance and security adviceIn the end, however, it’s important for the Road Warrior to be armed with local knowledge. An ounce of prevention will go a long way to making your international business travels successful, safe and secure.