I’ve always maintained that one of the best parts of any holiday is planning it. From spending hours scrolling through Pinterest, to reading hotels reviews for the perfect stay, I love taking the time to plan my holidays properly, easing the stress of being away and making sure there is very little chance for mishaps and hiccups that could easily ruin that well-deserved getaway.
Through travelling a lot for work, and as much as possible in a personal capacity, I’ve not only become savvy about how and where I book online, but also the best ways to keep myself safe doing so. I realise though, that this isn’t the case for everybody, and have decided to partner with SABRIC (we’ll get to who they are shortly) to share some important safety tips on how to prevent yourself being compromised online this upcoming holiday season.
Now, I’m a massive fan of the internet, it provides me with detailed information through simple search and the ability to book flights, hotels and tours at the click of the bottom, and it’s also a great tool for verifying what you’re planning on spending your money on with just a few simple hacks. But it can also be a dark and miserable place where criminals are just trying to steal your information either to get your hands on your credit card details or to steal your identity and put it to use in a not-so-savoury manner!
So what is SABRIC?
The South African Banking Risk and Information Centre (or SABRIC) is a non-profit company formed by South Africa’s four major banks with the aim to be Africa’s trusted financial crime risk information centre. Its role is to help mitigate against the occurrence of banking and financial crime in South Africa, as well as to educate the public on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud by putting fraud top of mind for the South African consumers.
What does this mean?
In short, SABRIC (and the banks that formed this entity), don’t want you to get ripped off, which of course is a massive task when you’re up against the entire Internet. I think it’s a commendable effort and that’s why I’m here to help!
So now to the gritty bits: how to keep yourself safe online
It’s actually quite difficult trying to distil a decade of online knowledge into a few short paragraphs, but here are my tops tips for keeping yourself safe online, especially when it comes to travel!
Only ever use secure websites to book travel
If you’re comfortable with online transactions, you may know how to tell if a website is secure, but if not and you believe all sites are secure in any case then here we go: Websites use various layers of protection and encryption to keep themselves secure. What this means is that the more secure a website is, the less chance there is of data such as personal details and credit card information being available to cyber criminals.
There are a couple of ways to tell if a website is secure without even going further than its front page, the first of which is in the URL (or website address). If you take a look at the URL and the website begins with ‘http’ only, that means the website does not have what is called an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate protects any communications happening through the website using encrypted code. If you take a look in your navigation bar above, you’ll see this website begins with ‘https’, keeping my data safe, and yours should you comment below or sign up for my newsletter!
Secondly, websites that are transparent about the security of their transactions are important. You may have noticed a Thawte (or other security) logo on a website before, that verifies that the website transacts securely, or maybe you’ve even noticed that major website opt to use secondary payment gateways such as Payfast to ensure their transactions do not get compromised.
If a website lacks one or both of the above, rather look for somewhere else to make your booking!
Don’t share unnecessary details online
If you’re like me, whenever you’re faced with a long list of personal details to fill out, you hit robot mode and just work through the list laboriously until the end. But what I have learnt is that while we may want to fill out every detail, it’s important not to share too much about ourselves when making a booking online.
Common sense should guide you here, but it’s very unusual that a hotel, airline or tour operator would need your banking details for instance. Have a proper think about the information you’re sharing and be careful to only share it with parties that absolutely need to know these details. You don’t want to share your home address, personal telephone number or credit card details and put yourself at risk ahead of a holiday!
Also, be careful about clicking on links! If you don’t remember signing up for an email newsletter from a certain company, it’s better to protect yourself by not clicking on a link that could compromise your data.
Use the Internet to verify a company
So you’ve finally found the ideal flight, hotel and tour to book for your December break, but are you 100% sure they’re legit? I often find that travel websites are really shoddy, with not enough detail or littered with spelling errors. This always starts to fly a red flag for me, and I use other avenues on the Internet to separate the legitimate businesses from the not-so-legit ones.
An easy way to get a feeling for a business is to check review sites such as TripAdvisor or Hello Peter. Social media reviews on Facebook can be helpful here too. Look at how a business has handled complaints in the past, whether they’re quick to respond and offer a solution, or whether they just tend to ignore negative queries and reviews.
Most legitimate travel businesses also tend to be a member of an industry association. In South Africa, the best to take a look at include Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), the Association of South African Travel Agents (ASATA), and a few others that have acronyms just as long. Industry association membership requires a level of legitimacy that should bring your comfort (and a port of call should things go wrong).
When in doubt, book with the big guys
If you’re still having problems with who to trust when it comes to your booking, I would recommend going with the trusted names in travel. Expedia, Booking.com and SafariNow are my top favourites. I’m also always happy to use a website that uses Nigthsbridge to handle their bookings.
The advantage of using these tried and trusted websites is the massive teams behind them, making sure that the travel products they offer are solid, and their customers are kept happy. Sometimes it’s worth spending R100 more on a booking if it makes you feel secure! The support teams from these websites generally offer fast turnaround and a pretty standard set of conditions for bookings, which brings me to my next point…
ALWAYS check the terms and conditions
I will admit that I have been caught with this one. Make sure you are comfortable with what you’re booking. Is the deposit reasonable and refundable? How many days out is cancellation an option? And what recourse do you have if the travel company you’re booking with doesn’t fulfil their end of the deal? Make sure you’re totally comfortable before clicking ‘pay’, otherwise you may regret it later when you need flexibility.
A word of advice, often hotels and airlines will offer more flexible terms at a higher price. Unless you are 100% sure on the booking, I would recommend paying for a more flexible option, this is in case you need to cancel. The worst is being stuck with a non-refundable flight or hotel stay, and you have to just kiss the money goodbye.
And just in case I hadn’t swamped you with enough detail, here are a few other tips from SABRIC:
- Change your password regularly and never share it with anyone else.
- Don’t use any Personal Identifiable Information (PII) as a password, user ID or personal identification number (PIN)
- Be wary of email attachments and free software from unknown sources.
- Be mindful of how much personal information you share on social networking sites.
- Always set the privacy settings on your social media profiles to the highest level possible.
- Verify all requests for personal information and only provide it when there is a legitimate reason to do so.
- To prevent your ID being used to commit fraud if it is ever lost or stolen, alert the SA Fraud Prevention Service immediately on 0860 101 248 or at www.safps.org.za.
- Ensure that you have a robust firewall and install antivirus software to prevent a computer virus sending out personal information from your computer.
- When destroying personal information, either shred or burn it (do not tear or put it in a garbage or recycling bag).
- Should your ID or driver’s license be stolen report it to SAPS immediately.
So be smart, make sure you’re looking after yourself online, #WiseUpWatchOut and don’t get skelmed!