Travelers, beware! At least that’s the sentiment of many people who’ve had their credit card and payment information stolen while traveling, specifically while staying in hotels.
Hotel data breaches are nothing new. Experts have warned vacationers for quite some time about the dangers of turning over your payment card at a check-in or check-out desk, as unscrupulous hotel employees can easily make a copy of your card using the magnetic key card machine. For that reason, travelers have long been warned about letting their cards out of their sight.
But a rash of large-scale data breaches at major hotel chains have been linked back to hackers, specifically those involving the hacking of the point of sale payment networks through hotel gift shops. As recently as September 2015, Krebs on Security reported about a data breach involving the Hilton properties, and hotels around the world like Mandarin Oriental and White Lodging Properties have also been affected.
Now, news broke this week about another major hotel data breach involving 54 different Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide properties. Once again, the breach seems to have impacted only the point-of-sale network within the hotel shops, and not the actual check-in desk or reservations system.
As the busy holiday travel season approaches, there’s no reason to think the situation will get better instead of worse. Hackers know they have an easy target in out-of-towners, especially as guests buy essential items or gifts from the hotel stores. Since this isn’t something you can easily plan ahead for or prevent, it’s better to take proactive steps before the issue occurs.
For starters, you can opt to pay with cash at hotel properties or, if possible, apply any charges to your hotel room. Another way to minimize harm is to designate one low-limit credit card for all of your travel spending. This method will also help you by reducing the chances that you could go over your travel budget. The main thing to remember is not to use a debit card in these situations as they do not allow for the same level of protections that apply to credit card transactions.
More importantly, though, is the need for monitoring all of your account statements both before and after you travel. That way, you’ll have a clear picture of how much you’ve spent and where your funds have gone. If anything remotely out of the ordinary occurs, you’ll be prepared to head it off with your financial institution.
It’s important to remember that in most of these major hotel data breaches, there has been a long window of opportunity during which thieves gathered credit card information, then used that information for criminal purposes. Don’t think that just because your information was safe in the days after you returned home, you’re in the clear. Keep a close eye on your statements all year long to stay on top of any potential threats.