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When you plan to travel, don’t forget your safety!

By: Ellie Burgueno

A little over a week ago, I traveled to Mexico City for the Fapermex (Federation of Mexican Journalistic Associations) National Journalism Convention and Awards Ceremony, joining journalists from across Mexico. Being part of the National Board since December 2022, I always engage in these gatherings held in various Mexican cities. This time, in the capital, we explored Cuernavaca, Morelos, discovering the stunning Jardines de Mexico. As the convention and awards concluded, amidst the lively Day of the Dead parade on Reforma, our group of 12 colleagues walked in search of a nearby restaurant. Unfortunately, during the crowded festivities, some of our cell phones were deftly stolen without our knowledge.

We headed to a restaurant-karaoke spot in a seemingly safe area, guarded by security and surrounded by police, so we never anticipated any risk. My hotel was just a 5-minute drive away, and I was preparing to leave for an early morning flight back home. However, upon getting into the cab, I discovered my cell phone missing from my purse, a realization echoed by some other colleagues who had encountered a similar situation. This unexpected incident caught me off guard; initially, I assumed the thieves might sell our phones in Tepito or elsewhere, but it turned out to be more complex.

The next day, while en route to the airport, I discussed the incident with the taxi driver, who highlighted the prevalence of criminal groups dedicated to mobile phone theft in Mexico City. He described their organized approach, often employing children, and suggested calling my number in hopes of retrieving the device. Beyond the phone itself, my major concern was my personal data, photos, and contacts stored within it. Attempting to reach the phone yielded no response, and I noticed it was charged after being taken. Returning home, I realized that the thieves had accessed my phone’s information, hacking into my accounts linked to Google. This revealed their intent to obtain sensitive data, prompting me to contact my cell provider, report the theft, and obtain a new phone to secure my accounts.

As you might be able to relate after reading the experience I had, losing a cell phone is one kind of suffering that is truly concerning, especially when it comes to having your personal data stolen. Smartphones are not only prohibitively expensive but they also contain a detailed summary of your personal life. Photos of the places you frequent, family members, and other people you know. Revealing text messages. Bank and credit card info and organized criminals know that. But how can you prevent this kind of experience when travelling?

First of all, while traveling, safeguarding your phone and data is crucial. Start by physically protecting your device and avoiding insecure Wi-Fi networks that pose data security risks. Activate the find-my-phone function and display emergency contact info on your lock screen, ensuring its security. Back up crucial photos and store essential numbers. Installing updates before your trip further enhances your phone’s security measures.

Beforehand, prioritize strong password protection, data backup, and noting the phone’s unique ID number too. After a loss, use recovery services, notify the service provider, change passwords, report the loss to authorities, and consider insurance claims if applicable. If your phone is recovered, reset it to factory settings to eliminate potential threats and ensure data safety. Remember, these measures significantly mitigate data risks and protect your device during travel and potential loss scenarios.

This experience served as a significant lesson, catching me unprepared for an unforeseen incident like having my cell phone stolen in supposedly secure environments. It was a stark awakening to the genuine threats lurking during travel and the eminent importance of readiness, particularly concerning privacy and personal data protection. As a journalist, I feel compelled to share this eye-opening experience, urging everyone to stay vigilant and well-prepared while traveling. Embracing preparedness, and never assuming advice as insignificant, is vital. Whether for business or leisure, let this be a reminder to stay equipped for the unexpected, ensuring enjoyable and secure travels for all.

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