Industry experts have done numerous studies and conducted exhaustive research into what factors contribute to the rising rates of identity theft. This information has actually led to the understanding that the single largest source of personal information breach comes about from the hospitality industry, with about one half of all personal data breaches occurring through the hospitality and food service industries each year.
Think of it like this. In a restaurant, you hand over your credit card to a waiter whose name you don’t know, who brings it back to you after leaving with it for several minutes. At a hotel or when booking a flight, you provide incredibly detailed information about yourself, including your name, your address, your birthdate, and your credit card number. If you travel for business, you even told them where you work.
Compounding the sheer volume of data that is now accessible to an outside hacker, the hospitality industry often relies on moderately-compensated employees who are prime targets for would-be thieves who offer them some much needed quick money to give them access to your information. Given the fact that US business and leisure travelers spend about $167 billion a year on hotel stays, not to mention other costs and industries associated with travel, identity thieves have picked up on the easy availability of information stored in hotel databases.
Hotels and restaurants are an easy source of information for identity thieves for a couple of other reasons, too. There’s an incredibly high volume of transactions on a daily basis, making the pot of data even bigger for thieves to take their pick from. Of course, consumers who are traveling for as little as just a few days aren’t likely to be checking in with their credit card companies to see if there has been any unauthorized usage, while credit card companies are less likely to see a red flag when numerous card purchases are made from a location far from home (as opposed to a single transaction that raises suspicions).
One of the most important ways an individual consumer can protest himself is to keep track of where and when his information is used. Booking reservations through one single site like Expedia or Travelocity will mean that the actual hotel location will not have access to your credit card number or other pertinent information; there is always a potential for a data breach at one of those major sites, but research has actually found that two-thirds of information thefts occurred through companies with between eleven and one hundred employees.
At a hotel, guard your physical credit card. Despite online booking and transactions, some hotels still want to see your card for incidentals or damage protection. Watch the card carefully to ensure that the employee on duty does not create a copy of your card via the hotel’s key card machine.
After returning home, it’s a good idea to check your credit card statement for any strange charges. While you were traveling, it stands to reason that your card would be used in a city far from home, so your credit card company might not pick up on fraudulent usage right away, and identity thieves are counting on that. Of course, be on the watch for a travel-related scam in which someone calls you pretending to be your credit card company, alerting you to supposedly fraudulent activity. If you receive that call, inform the caller that you will hang up and dial the number located on the back of the card to clear up the matter. That way, you can ensure that you are actually speaking to your credit card provider.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.