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Safety net for crucial numbers

by Sean Coughlan

A new website offers a ‘digital safe’, to help holidaymakers whose bags are snatched.

Saturday 26 July 2003

If you’re about to go on holiday, you’ve probably cancelled the milk and papers and asked a neighbour to keep an eye out for intruders. But have you checked the ‘digital safe’?

This is a new type of subscription service, launched this month, which is intended to provide a secure online back-up for all the financial and personal information that could be lost if there was a fire or a burglary.

It could be used to hold the numbers and details from credit cards, bank accounts, driving licence, passport, investments, pensions or insurance policies.

The idea is that a list of these numbers is kept on a secure internet site,, so that if disaster struck and all your documents were stolen or burnt, you could still retrieve the basic information you’d need to get your life started again.

It is also being promoted as useful to travellers who might have a bag snatched on holiday, so that they could log on to the internet site from their hotel and get their missing passport number and credit card details.

The digital safe concept is being endorsed and promoted by Zurich – and it includes insurance-friendly features, such as using the online safe as a storage place for digital pictures of valuables or as a record of what is kept in each room.

You can also store digital photos or scanned images of receipts and documents such as wills or insurance policies. But as a security measure, and to avoid creating a ‘shopping list for burglars’, none of this information is kept with the personÀs address.

This digital back-up system, costing £29.50 per year, is intended to help with the information overload in our lives, says Ron Edmonds of Greig InfoSafe, which runs the service. Instead of trying to memorise a mountain of financial details, or keeping them in that handheld computer that’s going to get left in the pub, the online safe is a way of paying someone else to do the filing.

And it is the case that many of us have too many documents, passwords, contact numbers and financial records scattered around in our lives – some stuck in a filing cabinet, some in a biscuit tin, some on a computer, maybe some lost down the back of the sofa.

We don’t just have one credit card, we have several, and the same goes for bank accounts, phones, insurers and everything else. And in that kind of data blizzard, where it’s a personal triumph to remember the names of all your credit cards, you can see the attraction of getting everything important into one place where it can’t be lost.

If nothing else, it might be one less thing to worry about in the days before going away. Holidays are meant to be relaxing experiences, but getting ready to go on one can be deeply stressful, with the night before the big trip usually an excellent time for an argument and a panic about unfinished work.

Pre-holiday stress should be a recognised medical condition – and part of this angst is the fear of leaving your home unattended.

Reflecting this concern, the AA says that an increasing trend, imported from the United States, is for holidaymakers to use housesitters, who move in while you’re away. For some very high-value insurance, it might even be obligatory to have someone living at the address – and the AA estimates that there are now up to 4,000 professional housesitters.

The AA offers elements of the digital safe concept through its travel assistance policy – and a spokesperson also suggests that there could be a more direct approach, which is to copy all this information on to a computer disc and give it to someone you trust. And presumably you’d hope that it’s not them that gets burgled when you’re away, otherwise it could be an open door for an identity thief.

When it comes to trust, research from Zurich shows that neighbours still occupy an important place when we’re going on holiday. Almost two-thirds of travellers ask their neighbours to watch their houses when they are away and almost half leave a key with a neighbour.

Zurich also points out that while we take security precautions for a longer trip over the summer, people are much more ‘complacent’ when they take a weekend break. They might not cancel the papers or tell the neighbours, and as a consequence they suffer a disproportionately higher number of burglaries.

Extended trips can also catch out holidaymakers, says the Norwich Union, pointing out that many insurance policies will not be valid if people are away for more than a month. And with more adventurous long-haul holidays being taken than ever before, travellers often forget to advise their insurers that they are going to be away for a longer break.

And after all that worrying, you’ll need another holiday to get over it.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Posted in: MediaMedia archive
Sean Coughlan

About the author: Sean Coughlan

Sean Coughlan writes for the Guardian newspaper group.