Security is important, but skip the old wives’ tales

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Traveling today requires more than the modicum of common sense necessary only a decade or two ago. Hotel break-ins have become more frequent; physical assaults, though not common, happen with greater frequency.

Not that long ago a meeting of the top brass of a federal agent’s organization was underway at a major Chicago hotel. Mind you now, there were perhaps 30 men and women all wearing guns, walking around the hotel.

One agent returned to his room only to find that his wife’s jewelry roll had been stolen. Fortunately he had his gun on his person so it wasn’t a temptation to the thieves. The case was never solved.

Identity theft has become one of the most pressing crimes today, especially involving travelers. On a ski trip to Germany one ski writer had his credit card shut down because of “unusual activity.” His card company had noticed the card was used for a number of purchases from Munich Airport to the little village of Garmisch.

He could have avoided that problem with a simple call to the credit card issuers informing them that he would be out of the country and provided destinations and dates of travel. Contrary to popular belief credit card companies are very concerned about protecting their customers.

Lately an email has been making the rounds of untold numbers of inboxes claiming that the magnetic strip on the key card contains your life history…or close to it.

Most modern hotels no longer issue regular keys to guests. They are now given a plastic card about the size of a credit card. And, like the credit card, there is a magnetic strip on the back.

The email starts out “Grab a refrigerator magnet on your way out of the house. Always take a small magnet on your vacation…Never thought about key cards containing anything other than an access code for the room.”

According to the warning the key card magnetic strip contains 1) Your name; 2) Your partial home address; 3) Hotel room number; 4; Check-in and -out dates; 5) Your credit card number and expiration dates.

It goes on to warn that when you return the card to the front desk or check out that personal information is there for any hotel employee to access by running the card through the hotel’s scanner.

“An employee can take a handful of cards home and using a scanning device, access the information onto a computer and go shopping at your expense,” the warning continues.

The rumor started after a conference when a detective from Pasadena, California, misunderstood some of the information presented. From there it took on a life of its own.

The fact of the matter is that the only information stored on the card is the room number, access code, and the start and stop dates. Hotels have no reason to encode such personal information because all of that personal data is stored in their main computers.

The only exception is at a resort or on a cruise ship where the key card may be used to charge services and gifts. But even here personal information is not on the card. Use of the card flags the main computer to add the charge to the patron’s account.

Computerworld Magazine ran a test to see if the rumor held water. They collected 100 key cards and ran them through readers. They found absolutely no personal information coming off the card.

Pranksters have used the Internet ever since Al Gore “invented” it. Remember the dying child who wanted greeting cards sent to him?  Or the missing child? The Nigerian Lottery scam is a prime example of what the Internet is capable of.

With the mountain of misinformation or malicious information coming to your inbox every day, it behooves you to check out, or any of the various search engines to see if this is a joke or some malicious individual looking to scam you.

Relax and enjoy your hotel stay and the convenience of having a key card to get into your room without the worry of anyone stealing your personal information.