Southern California law enforcement professionals assigned to detect new threats to personal security issues, recently discovered what type of information is embedded in the credit card type hotel room keys used through-out the industry.
Although room keys differ from hotel to hotel, a key obtained from the Double Tree chain that was being used for a regional Identity Theft Presentation was found to contain the following the information:
- Customers (your) name
- Customers partial home address
- Hotel room number
- Check in date and check out date
- Customers (your) credit card number and expiration date!
Simply put, hotels do not erase these cards until an employee issues the card to the next hotel guest. It is usually kept in a drawer at the front desk with YOUR INFORMATION ON IT!!!!
The bottom line is, keep the cards or destroy them! NEVER leave them behind and NEVER turn them in to the front desk when you check out of a room. They will not charge you for the card.
[Collected via e-mail, 2005]
Just received this and thought it was worth sending
Remember this for the future:
You know how when you check out of a hotel that uses the credit-card-type room key, the clerk often will ask if you have your key(s) to turn in...or there is a box or slot on the Reception counter in which to put them? It's good for the hotel because they save money by
From the Colorado Bureau of Investigation:
"Southern California law enforcement professionals assigned to Detect new threats to personal security issues, recently discovered what type of information is embedded in the credit card type hotel room keys used throughout the industry.
Although room keys differ from hotel to hotel, a key obtained from the "Double Tree" chain that was being used for a regional Identity Theft Presentation was found to contain the following the information:
a.. Customers (your) name
b.. Customers partial home address
c.. Hotel room number
d.. Check in date and check out date
e.. Customer's (your) credit card number and expiration date!
When you turn them in to the front desk your personal information is there for any employee to access by simply scanning the card in the hotel scanner. An employee can take a hand full of cards home and using a scanning device, access the information onto a laptop computer and go shopping at your expense.
Simply put, hotels do not erase the information on these cards until an employee
The bottom line is: Keep the cards, take them home with you, or destroy them. NEVER leave them behind in the room or room wastebasket, and NEVER turn them in to the front desk when you check out of a room. They will not charge you for the card (it's illegal) and you'll be sure you are not leaving a lot of valuable personal information on it that could be easily lifted off with any simple scanning device card reader. For the same reason, if you arrive at the airport and discover you still have the card key in your pocket, do not toss it in an airport trash basket. Take it home and destroy it by cutting it up, especially through the electronic information strip!
Origins: The notion that hotel key cards are routinely encoded with all sorts of personal information (thus making them dangerous should they fall into the hands of identity theft scammers) began in 2003 when an overzealous detective with the Pasadena (California) Police Department sent around a warning
"One of our investigators was at a meeting with other fraud detectives," says Ronnie Nanning of the Pasadena police. "Someone there happened to say that they heard that it was possible to put this information on this key card."
The detective notified other detectives as a "heads-up" to the possibility. That information was shared with others in the police department, who then passed it on before the risk could be evaluated, she says. It took on a life of its own.
Nanning says her department contacted major hotel chains at that time, and "were told time and time again that this was not the policy."
The misinformation wave created by the detective's erroneous
As the investigation into this potential fraud risk continued, this information was shared with other members of the Pasadena Police Department and personnel chose to share this information with others before we could correctly evaluate the risk. This has caused a chain reaction of probably thousands of people being given this information before the risk was evaluated thoroughly.
As of today, detectives have contacted several large hotels and computer companies using plastic card key technology and they assure us that personal information, especially credit card information, is not included on their key cards. The one incident referred to appears to be several years old, and with today's newer technology, it would appear that no hotels engage in the practice of storing personal information on key cards. Please share this information with anyone who has a concern over the initial information send out to others as a precautionary measure.
There was never the intent of the Pasadena Police Department to forward this information to others before the risk was evaluated. The information was forwarded by individuals as a possible precautionary note of interest only.
I would be most surprised to find out that any hotel encoded other information on the key-card. Current technology allows for guests to quick-checkout with the pay-per-view movie system on the TV, so there isn't any need to have more than the room number and length of stay on the
In January 2006, Computerworld investigated the key card rumors by collecting and examining over
We then sent the cards to Terry Benson, engineering group leader at MagTek, for a more in-depth examination using specialized equipment. MagTek also gathered cards from its own staff. In all,
Most cards were completely unreadable with an off-the-shelf card reader. Neither Benson nor Computerworld found any personally identifiable information on them. Based on these results, we think it's unlikely that hotel guests in the U.S. will find any personal information on their hotel card keys
A somewhat related but distinctly different theft scheme involves crooks' stealing credit card information (through other means) and then encoding that information onto hotel keycards:
It works like this: a thief gets his hands on a supply of key cards, either by having a hotel employee steal a batch or by buying them. The thief then uses a commercially available decoder/encoder to read information off a stolen credit card and transfer it to an innocent-looking hotel key card. Because the new generation of key cards is the same size as credit and debit cards, the key cards can then be used at ATMs and at point-of-sale swipe readers, where store clerks frequently do not watch patrons performing the transactions.
The scam recently came to light in southern California when police searched the hideouts of Armenian gang members and found a cache of key cards from a specific hotel. According to Larry Hanna, a detective in the
Blair Abbott, a Phoenix-area detective who has been investigating this type of crime, notes that a few key cards found on a suspect will not raise the same suspicion as would several credit cards bearing different names. Having multiple hotel keys is neither illegal nor uncommon.
Abbott also believes that the scheme is causing a resurgence in the use of readers that steal information from bank and credit cards at ATM machines. His firm investigated a criminal group that devised a credit card reader that could be placed over the normal credit card slot in ATMs and other card readers. The device has all the appearances of a regular card reader, but it is distinguished by protruding from the face of the ATM by several inches. Abbott adds that clever criminals have even created their own bogus ATM machines.
When the card information is lifted and placed on hotel key cards, it can be used not only at point of sale and at ATMs but also in association with accomplices working at stores, banks, and credit card companies. Worse yet, the victim continues to use his or her credit card and will attest to having it when contacted by the credit card company, which delays detection of the fraud.
Law enforcement has had to rely on the laziness of criminals to spot the scheme, Abbott says. Carrying several cards from the same hotel arouses suspicion, says Abbott, as does punching holes in cards and attaching them to a key chain.
It is unclear how widespread the scam is, but Hanna points out that it is so well known in Glendale, California, that the police keep a reader at the booking desk to scan all confiscated hotel key cards. Abbott says that the ploy is making the rounds in
Nonetheless, those who remain concerned that they may be discarding sensitive personal information with their hotel keys can follow the piece of advice offered in the message quoted at the head of this page: When you check out of your hotel, simply retain or destroy your keycard. Your former room's access code will be changed before the room is assigned to a new guest, and few (if any) hotels demand that keycards be returned or charge customers who fail to do so. Just be sure that you are the one who retains or destroys the card.
| Hotel Key Card Update
(Pasadena Police Dept.)
| It's Just the Key to Your Room
| Local Hotels Debunk Keycard ID Theft Risk
Casper, Stacey. "Warning: Your Room Key May Not Be Safe." Good Housekeeping. November 2004 (p. 79). Le, Phuong Cat. "Reversed PIN Isn't a 911 Call, Hotel Key Cards Keep Mum." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 30 January 2007. Lerten, Barney. "Local Hotels Debunk Keycard ID Theft Risk." Bend.com. 17 October 2003. Mitchell, Robert. " It's Just the Key to Your Room." Computerworld. 16 January 2006. Morrison, Jane Ann. "Hotels Can't Erase Myth About Credit Card Information on Room Keys." Las Vegas Review-Journal 10 November 2003.