The Personal Info Stored on Your Hotel Key Card

by SharonKurheg

Key cards have been a boon to the hotel industry. Instead of giving guests metal keys that can be lost, taken as a souvenir, etc., these reusable pieces of plastic, which are also lost and taken, are a fraction of the cost of metal keys. As an added savings, whereas a missing key for a hotel room door could mean having to replace the lock for security, programmable key cards are easily wiped and reset.

However, some worry about what information is embedded on that key card? After all, hotels are privy to your name, address and credit card information (save for those that still accept cash. And yep, there are a few!). And, of course, that key card is associated with you and, by proxy, that personal information.

In fact, warnings about personal information potentially stored on those key cards have been circling for at least two decades. Here’s one of the warnings that was making the rounds via emails in 2003:

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 through-out the industry.

Although room keys differ from hotel to hotel, a key obtained from the Double Tree 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.

As it turns out, the warning came about after a detective who worked for the Pasadena Police Dept. misunderstood something she had heard at a meeting about fraud, and the department sent out a warning email that was picked up by, well, a lot of people and places.

But as what often happens with rumors and the like, not every person who hears about the original misinformation ever hears the retraction – which is exactly what happened with the Pasadena PD. And to this day, multiple people still think their name, partial address, hotel room number, check in date, check out date and credit card info is on their hotel key card.

It’s not.

I mean, think about it for a second. There’s really no need to put that info on a key card. Hotels already have databases that store all that information, so why would they need to encode anything more than basic information (i.e. room number and dates the key will be active) on the key cards? Truth be told, even that basic information isn’t really stored on the cards; it’s all encoded as a serial number which a door lock reads, decodes, and uses to decide if the inserted key is authorized to open it.

Even newer generation key cards (or Disney’s “Magic Bands,” or wrist bands some cruises use) that allow credit card spending don’t actually have credit card information on stored them; the card/band just includes a flag that a person’s credit card is on file and is authorized to make charges.

Of course, some people are firmly entrenched in Conspiracy Theory Land and are probably still positive that all of their personal information gets stored on those cards. So after their hotel stay, they make sure to take the card home, and they cut it up into a bajillion pieces.

That’s fine if it makes them feel better.

But it’s really not necessary.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Left Handed Passenger July 9, 2023 - 6:24 pm

Would it be too technical to say “hash code” instead of “serial number”?

SharonKurheg July 10, 2023 - 10:30 am

Very much so. Thank-you, though! 😉


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