(11/3/2003) Once again, we are given an anonymously authored urgent warning from an unspecified authority about a supposedly common crime that poses an immediate threat to your safety. In reality, it has more in common with urban legend than fact.
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
For those who travel, or those special ones who use the room for a few hours! - Phil
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 a major hotel 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!
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 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.
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
An earlier version of this chain began circulating in late July, 2003. The version above surfaced around October of the same year. The reference to "southern California law enforcement officials" was added in the later versions and is so vague as to be of absolutely no value. There are literally thousands of such officials that could fit the bill, so this does not count as a reliable attribution. In still later versions, the "major hotel chain" mentioned in the example is identified as a DoubleTree hotel.
Hotels have been increasingly turning to electronic key cards for their guests' security. The cards resemble credit or debit cards and include a magnetic stripe on their reverse sides on which is encoded a room number, combination code to the lock and dates the card is to work in that lock. No personally identifiable information is included on these key cards, and most hotel chains say they have no desire to begin doing so, as this would create extra work.
The guest room security and the guest registry systems are separate entities. While your name, address, room number, dates of stay and credit card information are in the guest database, the security system requires none of this. Even in situations where guests can use their key cards to make purchases (in resort gift shops, restaurants, etc.,) the card merely sends a flag to charge the amount to the room number - a direct charge to your credit card does not occur. When you return your card, it is stored until it is re-activated with a new room number, lock code and stay dates.
A spokesman for Hilton Hotels (the parent company of DoubleTree Hotels) told BreakTheChain.org that the chain letter above is based on very old information and has been denied by authorities.
"It is not common industry practice, nor is it Hiltonís practice, to retain personal information such as credit card number, home address, or email address, on the key card.
"The incident circulating on the internet was from a test done on a hotel key card that was several years old.
"The law enforcement agency that originally reported this practice recently issued a statement acknowledging that they did not come across any hotels that currently engage in the practice of storing information on key cards."
It's possible that this rumor is fed by someone's misunderstanding of a true scam in which criminals have been known to steal large numbers of hotel key cards - not for the information on them, but for the info they can put on them. They use specialized card readers to encode credit/debit numbers that they have stolen through other means. The key cards work just like a credit/debit card and raise fewer suspicions.
If you are concerned about how your key card will be used after your stay, go ahead and keep or destroy your card. However, it may be wise to check with hotel management to ensure that no penalty will be assigned for doing so. Break this chain.