Traveling overseas on business is exciting and rewarding and thwarted with some hidden dangers, including being scammed. In my experience, in some countries, business travelers are a better target than your average holiday maker or tourist. Not only do travelers have the usual treasures like money and valuable. They also have sensitive and confidential business information, which is highly attractive, especially in countries where the local authorities may not be considered it a crime or worth pursuing.
Therefore when traveling for business, it pays to be aware of threats such as kidnapping, tampering with your computer even when it’s “secured” in the hotel safe, and social engineering by an attractive stranger in the hotel bar.
In this article, I have provided my top business travel security tips for business travelers. I encourage you to also do your own research, including visiting your government’s travel advisory website to gain country-specific security recommendations for extra guidance.
Top Business Travel Security Tips
Thoroughly research every hotel you are considering staying at for crime, frequent loss of valuables, complaints of extra credit card charges, etc. Hotels can be a haven for crime, and since you are on business, any confidential business information you carry, be it a paper form or on your computer, may make you a target.
2. Food and Drink
Do not accept food or drink from strangers in hotels/bars/public dining spots etc., as drugs may have been added to the food or drink, which may cause you to black out or worse. This may seem slightly “James Bond” like, but drugs are cheap in many countries, and people have no qualms about drugging people. An overdose could result in permanent physical damage. When at the bar, I ask for a beer in a bottle and make sure the bottle is opened in front of me to avoid any drugs being added before I am served.
Only use ATMs attached to a bank as some enterprising individuals have been known to place dummy ATMs in malls and other public areas.
Check your Embassy website for any warnings regarding the countries and cities you plan to visit. Also, search online for any well-known scams in the country and/or city you’re seeing. Some scams are only used during high tourist season. For example, professional pic-pockets only frequent major tourist sites during summer.
Make sure you use high-quality luggage and backpacks when traveling to destinations known for pic-pockets. Often criminals will use a box-cutter or a knife to cut the straps of your pack or cut the bottom of the pack while you are walking! I use gear from Pacsafe as they have added anti-theft mechanisms such as stainless steel wire cords integrated into the pack’s straps, making it extremely hard to cut them.
Before you grab a taxi, try and find out how much the fare to your destination should cost. I always check with the hotel staff on how much a food will likely be. I also get taxis from a hotel queue as they are commonly known to hotel staff, and more reputable taxi firms are only allowed to queue. If you have to hail a taxi, then make sure the cab is with a known company and has its branding on the car. Uber is not a wrong choice as long as you can confirm the driver is with Uber.
7. Valuables & Documents
Avoid wearing or carrying valuables and use the hotel principal safe, not the safe in your hotel room, to store them and your sensitive or confidential information. I always have a small amount of cash and one debit card with only the necessary funds. I pay cash for everything unless it’s an expensive item. When I return to the hotel room, I will use online banking to top up the debit card when needed (see IT security below).
For sensitive information such as bank account details, passwords, and documents, use a USB that can encrypt the information and requires a password to decrypt the information for your use. I use IronKey as not only is the content encrypted with strong encryption but you can set the IronKey to ” self-destruct” after a certain number of failed login attempts – wiping all the information off the USB. They are expensive, but you won’t be worried about the price of the USB if you lose it and know your data, such as bank account details, are secure.
Make sure you have a strong login password for your computer and consider encrypting the drive of your computer. If you need to leave your computer unattended in the hotel room, check the computer for any signs of tampering. Remember the exact position you left the computer in – if it appears to be in a different position from what you left it in when you come back, consider the computer compromised. This includes storing the computer in the room or hotel safe. (https://blog.malwarebytes.com/cybercrime/2015/10/leaving-laptops-in-hotel-rooms-a-bad-idea/)
Use VPN when accessing the Internet if you use local internet connections such as Wi-Fi- including hotel Wi-Fi! There have been many cases of organized crime accessing hotel Wi-Fi. At well-known hotels, business executives steal sensitive information off the executives’ computers, and it is not a long stretch of the imagination that anyone can be a target, not just execs. (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/10/hotel-wi-fi-infected-business-travellers-asia-kaspersky).
If possible, avoid any Internet cafes or offers of free Internet access, such as hotel Wi-Fi, as there is a good chance that the “free” and “public” Wi-Fi is hosted by organized crime with the ability to scan your network traffic and steal your data. Treat all computers at Internet cafes as infected with malware – do not at any time conduct business on these computers; if you have to because of an emergency, treat the information you transmitted through that computer as compromised.
10. Cultural Sensitivities
Be aware of the cultural sensitivities of your destination county. You may attract undue attention from ignorance. Your behavior in public, including overt displays of affection such as kissing, showing too much bare skin or not covering the head in a sacred place, displays of wealth, renting an expensive foreign car, etc., can attract unwanted attention.
11. No-Go Zones
Avoid situations where you can place yourself in danger of being attacked or kidnapped. Foreign business travelers are good targets for kidnappings as businesses have deeper pockets to pay ransoms.
Also read this article on our site written by a popular travel writer on top risks when traveling for business and how to counter them.