This article was first published in DAWN Magazine on 6th March 2016
If being received by someone unknown ensure the following:
— Hotels / car rentals must only display their logo and not your name on the plaque.
As a business traveller you could fall prey to fraud in a new and unfamiliar environment; better to learn a few tips before you travel
— Your organisation or a business partner must only display your name (not the company logo).
— You must have the contact details for either the person receiving you or the organisation that arranged the meet and assist. This allows you to confirm that you are going with the right person. At times even a picture could be provided, especially in places where language is a barrier.
— If the agent is facilitating your passage through immigration don’t handover your passport, insist on being present when it’s being stamped. (Always check that you’ve received an entry stamp for that date. Exit stamps are not always needed but reconfirm).
Airports, train stations, bus depots around the world are common hunting grounds for petty criminals, such as pickpockets, scam artists (currency exchange, fake porters, etc.).
Securing your assets
It’s not just about the hardware, confidential and even proprietary information is often lost by passengers during transit.
The airport and transport (plane, train, bus, etc.):
— Lounges may have better security but they aren’t foolproof; don’t leave your laptop unattended. A fellow passenger may offer to keep any eye on your property while away but he / she could be the scam artist too. If you must leave it then ask the lounge attendant to keep it secure.
— If you are to use a computer, consider the risks of login on to a public Wi-Fi even if it is password protected. — Install a screen filter that those sitting either side of you cannot see your screen.
— If you can, secure your laptop with a Kensington lock.
— Don’t keep your passport and other valuables in the same laptop bag, especially if you are leaving it in someone’s care.
— Printed documents need to be secured as well and placing them in the pocket of the seat isn’t safe.
— Taking confidential calls or even regular business calls should be limited. Once again you do not know if the person sitting by your side is from competition or not.
At the hotel
Whether it’s at check-in or out, in the dining hall, at the pool, in the lounge, always remember to keep a low profile, especially in hotels that are known to host business folk primarily.
— If you have to meet a client or partner and need to discuss business find out if there’s a secluded spot.
— Check if the property is frequented or even houses a competitor and avoid staying there if possible and hosting any business meetings. If you have no option then limit the conversations to non-confidential material. (Industrial espionage is real and it happens, competitors have been known to present themselves as waiters, janitors, taxi drivers, housekeeping, etc.).
— If you need to use the printer, do it yourself or stand there when someone does it if you have handed in a USB. Ensure that they don’t copy the file or if they do then make sure that they delete it and empty the trash folder.
— You may lock your room at all times and secure the windows too but your laptop and documents must go in the safe at all times when you are not in the room.
— It’s equally important to confirm from your hotel at the time of the booking that they have a safe and try and confirm its size. Many hotels provide safes that would not account for a laptop being placed in it.
— Laptops can also be secured to a sturdy piece of furniture by using a Kensington cable.
— Keep your bags locked at all times when in the room and if the safe is not big enough put your valuables inside the bag. Once you develop the habit of locking it will also help detect any tampering.
— The helpful porter at the airport: do you know if he’s an authorised agent or a scam artist who will blackmail you to return your baggage when you’ve exited?
— The person offering you a good currency exchange rate if you walked to the shop at the end of the corridor. Is he leading you to a blind spot away from law enforcement detection to rob you?
— The guide who insists on using a particular ATM to withdraw cash. Are the intentions clean or are you being duped into using a machine that can capture your card or currency leaving you stranded.
— The taxi driver who says he’ll pick his young daughter up from just outside the terminal as she’s going home and it’s on the way to where you are heading. Is she really his daughter?
— The friendly patron at restaurant who offers to buy you a meal. Is that individual being hospitable or has an agenda?
Always inform someone where you will be, by when, with whom and how they can reach you.
This helps reduce the threat of virtual kidnappings where people take advantage of you being unreachable to demand a ransom for your release when in fact they don’t even have you in their possession.
Your colleagues must be informed that only you will ask them to share any information over fax, email or courier and to recheck with you before doing so. A favourite tactic of industrial espionage is to pose as someone managing the agenda or schedule calling up the individuals assistant claiming they’re embarrassed as they lost a certain document and would appreciate if it could be sent over to avoid further embarrassment. The unsuspecting assistant passes the information and the spy vanishes and the incident is left undetected until it’s too late.
Remember as a traveller you are always exposed to risks because of the lack of awareness or street smartness. Regular travellers must be cautious not to let their guard down either.