By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Couch surfing involves offering weary travelers a place to crash for a night or two in your home in exchange for similar travel accommodations.
But the “your house is my house” experience also comes with personal information and identity theft concerns, especially if you don’t take the proper measures to protect your belongings when travelers surf your couch and vice versa.
Here are a number of security measures to keep in mind when taking part in the couch surfing craze.
For Couch Surfers: Check Reviews and Contact the Homeowner
Staying in someone else’s home brings up certain security and identity threats. If you’re using a couch surfing service, make sure you thoroughly read all the reviews for the accommodations. For homeowner’s with less than three positive reviews or for homeowners who are new to the couch surfing service website, contact them directly if possible.
Much like letting a couch surfer into your home, getting to know your couch surfing host ahead of time can give you peace of mind that your accommodations are safe and secure. The correspondence can also set off any red flags if something doesn’t seem right with the host.
Don’t Use the Homeowner’s Computer
Some couch surfing hosts might let you use their home computer during your stay. Although this is a convenient feature, it’s wise to avoid using someone else’s computer if you’re planning on doing anything other than surfing the web.
Take Your Belongings With You
You never know who has access to the house you’re staying in during your couch surfing vacation, so it’s wise to bring your belongings with you when you leave, including your computer. Leaving your laptop at your couch surfing house might result in security and hacking threats that can quickly destroy your digital and personal life.
Even if you’re just leaving the house for a few minutes, bringing your personal belongings with you will avoid any chance of theft. If it’s your second or third night at the accommodations and you feel safe and comfortable leaving a few things behind while you’re out for the evening, don’t make the mistake of leaving your important belongings out in the open.
Keeping your passport and wallet with you wherever you go is always a smart move while traveling. If you must leave your electronic devices behind, make sure they’re password protected and hidden from plain sight.
For Homeowners: Put a Hold on Your Mail
On the flip side of the couch surfing coin is inviting couch surfers to stay in your home. If you’re opening your doors to couch surfing travelers, then using the hold mail service through USPS can help protect your identity by keeping your personal information out of your houseguest’s reach.
From credit card offers and bank statements to every piece of mail in between, your mail presents particular threats to your identity, especially if someone else is residing in your home for a short time. With the hold mail service, your mail carrier will hold your mail at the post office for as long as you need, which is perfect if you let couch surfers stay in your home while you’re away. After all, your mail says more about you than you might think.
Invest in a Lockbox or Safe
If going through your entire house hiding and shredding all of your personal documents doesn’t sound very practical every time you host a couch surfer, then a lockbox or safe can easily solve the security issue.
Lockboxes and safes are great for keeping your personal belongings safe, secure, and out of sight. Likewise, if you still use paper files for all of your personal information and finances, a locking file cabinet is another great way to protect your identity when couch surfing travelers are in your home.
Perform Additional Research on the Occupant
Taking a deeper look into couch surfing travelers who are going to stay at your home in the future will give you a better idea of whether your identity is at stake. If you use a couch surfing company, which is highly recommended, then make sure the individual you’re opening your doors to has at least three positive reviews from other members on the company’s website.
Once the couch surfer passes the review test and the rest of their profile meets your criteria, you should conduct more research. Start by looking into their social media profiles to make sure what they say about themselves, like their age, gender, and hometown, match up to their couch surfing website profile. In addition, attempt to contact the couch surfer either through email or phone to get a feel for their personality before they show up on your doorstep.
Protect Your Wireless Network
If you offer your couch surfing guests access to your home’s Wi-Fi, then you need to protect your network and block your guests from the resources you normally share through your router. One way to do this is by creating a guest network that limits Wi-Fi accessibility to folders and files that are usually available on your network.
There are a number of online tutorials that can show you exactly how to set up a guest network using your IP address. You can also password protect your Wi-Fi network with a one-time password so your house guests can’t share your Internet with people you didn’t authorize. As always, the best way to protect your online identity is to simply deny your visitors access to your wireless network.
Before you open your door to road wandering couch surfers, make sure you keep in mind the security risks and precautions above. In addition, if you couch surf yourself, remember to protect your belongings while in other people’s homes as well.
Image via Flickr by DieselDemon