Our data is especially vulnerable when we ourselves are too: at border crossings and when in unfamiliar environments.
Most travelers know that you cannot use the digital download service you use in your country, say the US or Canada, in another country. Due to licensing regulations, agreements, and what not, you cannot use your US Amazon account in Ireland or the UK. Why would you want to, you should be enjoying your trip? Problem is, we are all addicted to some form of wind down, and while traveling, if you have ever tried to rent a video download from a hotel, you have a very limited selection and it costs double what it does at home. Or if only you had that country’s various streaming services. Ah, the clever bot comes out of your mind.
I was trying to be a clever traveler. I paid the price for three years. When in Glasgow in the summer of 2016, I had rented an apartment off of the Clyde river. It had very limited Sky network services. While watching shows that would take 1-2 years to show up on US streaming is fun, I was still not happy with the choices. My US Amazon account would not let me stream. Apple TV the same. I thought to myself, “Why not set up an Amazon UK account and shut it down when I get back after a month? Only download pay-per-view and no frills.” Big mistake.
When I got back to the US, I contacted Amazon UK and went through the lengthly process of trying to shut down the account. I thought I had after a weeks worth of emails. Amazon makes it very difficult for your account to be shut down. If they tell you it’s for your safety, it’s for theirs. It’s because they want to keep your money coming in. It’s part of that making you addicted to their services and invading your life thing.
Move forward three years.
I noticed a small, funny $.07 charge on my credit card. If you have spotted these funny charges, usually with an IP address and no name on description, you are being queried for possible fraud. A computer program is testing your card’s validity. It’s a sign to go through your accounts for the last few months, and really check the activity. I decided it was time to cancel the card and get a new one. While I was verifying the monthly charges with the Amazon US customer service, we came across charges nestled in with their billing from the UK account I had cancelled 3 years prior. Or I thought I had. The account I had closed had been billing me for 3 years Prime Video membership in the UK. Someone had gotten a hold of my information and was accessing the account.
After two days of dealing with customer services in the UK, explaining I never authorized or signed up for Amazon Prime Video UK, that I couldn’t even watch the streaming from the US because of their licensing agreements, I got a response. I reminded them I had cancelled the account. I demanded a refund. I was told they could only credit me back 15 months, less than half the amount. I then had to go to my Credit Union and ask them to reverse foreign exchange fees, minimal but it’s the principal that counts. I told Amazon I wanted the UK account cancelled. Three days later, and after I had cancelled my credit card, which lead to many other account re-workings, they cancelled both the US and UK accounts. I had made the mistake of using the same email I did for the domestic account. I had to start all over again with a new account. This tells me that I am not the only account holder who has gone through this. That customers accounts are snagged frequently, and that Amazon goes into self protection mode. They don’t like giving refunds.
The UK account. That ugly epiphany moment sunk in. I surmised that after I left Glasgow, someone had accessed the account information from the apartment I was renting, most likely the WiFi. Yes, there are various nefarious ways through either the device you plug into, Smart TV ,or the WiFi in general that this can be done. Remember, Smart TVs participate in the Internet of everything, constantly on checking for updates via WiFi. This leads them open to access if you don’t have a very secure system. Whoever it was, signed up for Prime and had free video downloads for the three years.
Because they had not, luckily, started buying like crazy on Amazon UK, I didn’t pick up on it until years later because Amazon does all of its billing at the same time. Therefore I saw Amazon Prime. Not the UK part of the billing at a quick glance. Someone may have hacked into their system and found the information to restart the account when I cancelled, or Amazon never cancelled as requested (I surmise this is it). There may be a hacker living in the building who knows there are several vacation rentals and has hacked the WiFi. Or the cleaning service has a disloyal employee. Any combination of these and your trip continues to cost you money.
So my advice is; don’t stream at all. Just enjoy your vacation as you should. But if you must:
- Stream off of your laptop or WiFi and monitor the account. Shut it down, and keep doing so when you get back.
- 2. Use a email that’s for travel, I have a gmail account I make for this purpose so I can load files into it and access when abroad.
- 3. If you must have a mirror account because you travel a lot, get an account very separate and watch it for signs of miss use and change the password when you leave the country.
- 4. Use a service like Mobdro (open source), Swift Streamz, or Showbox, MUBI, and BBC iPlayer apps if in the UK. In Ireland: Now TV, The RTE Player. But check with any friends you may know there, and ask what they use. Know you will need to shut it down when you get back.
Just be aware it’s not only your credit card information you need to be secure with while traveling. If you use Amazon, it is easy for someone to also start ordering high ticket items and on your dime. Once they have taken over your account, change the password, they can pose as you and try to keep locking you out.
So maybe it’s just best to enjoy your time away from that much media, there will be plenty of other media things going on while you travel. The interactive ones at museums and galleries are usually the best. AND, change your passwords before you leave town, and when you get back. Someone can do the same thing in your home country while you are distracted and away.
Be aware of streaming in the EU and UK if you purchase a local box to view, such as a Hulu box. There are illegal knock offs. They allow you to stream, but it is an illegal setup and not only will they go after the bad guys, your hotel or rental door may be the first to have the Gardai knocking. When illegal streaming is done, they start at the download and work their way back.