Updated May 27, 2012

Hotel Credit Card Hacking

Why Are Hotel Guests More Likely to be Victims of Credit Card Scams?
Read more about Hotel Rewards

Hotels are one of the top dangers facing credit card users this summer.

Studies show that 38 percent of all credit card hacking involves hotels, outnumbering the incidents of credit card fraud that happens in other environments, including restaurants, bars, retail stores and the financial sector. This fact surprises many consumers and makes them wonder if it’s safe to use their credit cards at hotels.

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Infographics: Hotel Credit Card Hacking
Infographics: Hotel Credit Card Hacking © CreditDonkey

Why hotels

Travelers are most likely to use credit cards to pay for their stay in hotels, making the industry a hot spot for would-be thieves. The sheer volume of credit card data stored on hotel computers, coupled with the likelihood of out-of-date security software (when hotels were hit by the economic downturn, IT professionals were laid off or technology upgrades were placed last on the list of expenses) make hotels a likely target of fraud.

Luxury hotels are often targeted because the credit cards in their databases are more likely to have higher spending limits. These credit card holders also tend to have more activity, so fraudulent activity is more likely to be missed by the cardholder and their credit card issuers.

Protect your cards

Thankfully, there are easy steps you can take to keep your credit card and finances safe when you travel. You will want to follow these practices on a regular basis for a couple of reasons. First, it will become a habit that you automatically complete while on vacation. Second, your credit card data can be stored in a hotel’s computer system for months after your stay; this means that the risk of credit card fraud lasts beyond the duration of your hotel stay.

  • Check your credit card activity. Enroll in online banking for your credit card so you can check your credit card activity throughout the month. The sooner you catch fraud, the less damage that is done and easier it will be for your bank to correct. Keep in mind that to begin with, fraudulent activity will likely be small, maybe even less than $10 so the thief can verify the credit card is still open and active.

  • Review your statements. Make sure to look through your statement details each and every month. This gives you a second chance to review all of the purchases in case you missed something fishy the first time you looked at the activity.

  • Maintain more than one credit card account. If you detect fraud, the purchases in question will tie up your credit limit until the issue has been resolved. This could leave you without purchasing power if the fraud is a significant amount of money. You may also choose to keep a credit card that you only use at hotels so your everyday card is not affected by hackers.

  • Be observant while at hotels. When you use your credit card in a hotel, keep an eye on your card. An employee may be using their job to steal credit card information. Watch out for suspicious cell phone activity (the employee could be taking a picture of your credit card) or for your credit card being taken out of your sight (they could be running the card through a device that will store your data).

Reaching beyond the credit cards

Hotels are also cracking down on guests who steal amenities like toiletries, towels, ashtrays and bathrobes. One way they are recouping the losses incurred by these missing items (they cost the industry $100 million annually) is by charging guests credit cards for the missing amenities.

Unfortunately, employees are just as capable as guests when it comes to taking items. Make sure to review your room bills and keep a copy for your records. When you get home, compare the amount on the receipt to the amount charged to your credit card. If there is a discrepancy, call the hotel immediately to ask about the extra charges.

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