Monday, June 25, 2012

Personal data theft: Magnetic hotel room cards

When you travel, often or occassionlly, chances are you'll be staying in a hotel and you'll be familiar with the magnetic hotel room cards. They're about the size of your credit card.

Room access card.

I received this piece of information recently from friends circulating it through email. I found it quite credible, especially the suggestion to use magnet to erase the information in the card. I recall that vendors usually use magnet to RESET (read: erase) data in the magnetic flowmeters used to measure volume of treated water produced by the state water department.

As long as it is 'magnetic', you can use magnet to erase stored data in the card. The stronger the magnet, the better. But magnets used by kids to experiment at school will do just fine.

That said, if you ask me if I believe everything in this article, I'd say I'll take it with a pinch of salt. While it is true that each of these can possibly happen as mentioned, truth is that most hotels will swipe/erase the card key in your presence during check out.

With this in mind, I leave you with what I found in my inbox (no editing done):

Always take a small fridge magnet on your holiday, they come in handy at the end of it. Never even thought about key cards containing anything other than an access code for the room?

Ever wonder what is on your magnetic Hotel room key card?
a. Customer's name
b. Customer's partial home address
c. Hotel room number
d. Check-in date and out dates
e. Customer's credit card number and expiration date!

When you hand them back 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 don't erase the information on these cards until an employee reissues 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 thus erased. But until the card is rewritten for the next guest, it usually is kept in a drawer at the front desk with YOUR INFORMATION ON IT!

The bottom line: 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 into the front desk when you check out of a room.

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!


If you have a small magnet, pass it across the magnetic strip several times. Then try it in the door, it will not work. It erases everything on the card.


TexWisGirl said...

that is very scary! will have to pass this info along to my husband who travels often.

de engineur said...

More like a precaution, but good to know.

Anonymous said...

It is a Hoax -

Jon son said...

Next time i will take extra care of my keycard. Next time i am not gonna return it.

Thanks for sharing the information.
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