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Publication: Travel Tips
Card Key Paranoia

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Tips & Advice for the Seasoned and Armchair Traveler Alike! 

Oct. 2, 2007 

The warning about hotel key cards has been out for a while

The warning, issued in an e-mail that's been flashing around 
cyberspace, alleges that unscrupulous hotel operators have 
been collecting credit card numbers and other personal 
information on hotel keys.

Scary, huh? I received the warning in my e-mail last week. 
It was forwarded to me by a savvy and trusted source.

A closer look, however, shows that travelers may not have 
that much to worry about.

Today's topics include:




P.S. If you're interested you can now post comments on this 
and recent issues on our forum at... Travel Tips Forum 


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The warning has apparently been circulating since October, 
2003. Here's the email I, and probably many of you, have 

“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

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 name, partial home 
address, hotel room number, check-in date and check-out 
date, customer's 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 

An employee can take a handful of cards home and,using a 
device, access the information onto a laptop
computer and go shopping at your 

Simply put, hotels do not erase the information on these 
cards until an employee re-issues the card to the next hotel 
guest. At that time, the
 new guest's information is
electronically "overwritten" on the card and the previous 
guest's information is erased in the overwriting process.

But until the card is rewritten for the next guest, it 
usually is kept
in a drawer at the front desk with YOUR 

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!

Information courtesy of: 

Sergeant K. Jorge, Detective Sergeant, Pasadena Police

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Since issuing the alert, however, Sgt. Kathryn Jorge has 
apparently toned it down a bit.

“In years past," she said in a statement quoted by the news 
Website Bend.com, "existing software would prompt the user 
(employee) for information input. If the employee was 
unaware of hotel policy dictating that such information NOT 
be entered, it could have ended up on the card in error. 

“Since this subject came up, experiments on newer cards have 
failed to duplicate the problem. It appears that the problem 
is not as widespread as it used to be in the larger chain 

The urban legend nature of the warning is echoed on the 
Website TruthorFiction.com (http://www.truthorfiction.com):

“Hotels and resorts are increasingly issuing credit card-
looking "key cards" to guests instead of traditional metal 
keys for use in opening the doors to guest rooms.

That's increased security for guests since metal keys could 
be easily duplicated and most of them had the number of the 
room stamped on them making it easy for a stolen or lost key 
to be used for entry.

The key cards do not have any visible indication of what 
room they open.

They also have a magnetic strip on the back that can be 
programmed, for example, with the dates that the guest is 
going to use the room so that the key cannot be used after 
that unless it is programmed with fresh information.

Do hotel key cards have guests' personal information on 

We surveyed several major hotels in California, Nevada, and 
Florida and the consensus was emphatic: No hotel key cards 
have any personal information on them, not even the guest's 

There are some hotels, such as the Hard Rock and Portofina 
Hotels in Orlando, Florida, that allow key cards to be used 
for purchases, but there is no identifying information on 
the key card. The purchases are billed to the room number 
and added to the guests hotel charges.


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One fraud detective said the eRumor may have been prompted 
by a police case from Southern California where 
investigators broke up a group of foreign credit card 

They had a large number of stolen key cards from a 
particular hotel. The police decided to scan them to see 
what was on them and they found credit card debit card 
numbers, not hotel room information.

The reason, according to the detective, is that the crooks 
can use a credit card scanning device to steal credit and 
debit card information, program it on to a hotel key card 
and use it just like the original card. 

He said that there was a case in Fresno, where a member of a 
foreign credit card fraud gang was an employee at a gas 
station. He had made a device that would scan customers' 
credit and debit card info on to a hotel key card at the 
same time that the card was being used for a purchase.”

All that said, it is still a good idea to destroy your hotel 
room card when you check out.

Law enforcement officials still warn that lost or stolen 
hotel keys can be put to ill use by identity thieves. They 
can be re-encoding with stolen personal information and used 
to mimic ATM or credit cards for unauthorized purchases and 

Well, that's it for this week, group. Thanks again for 
reading, and please keep those comments, complaints and 
questions coming in. 

You can send me an e-mail message at: Email Pierce

Until next week, thanks for reading.   

Your Tipmeister,   



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