Fact or fiction: hotel key cards put you at risk for identity theft?

So someone I know too well to stop accepting email from forwarded this to me:


Ever wonder what is on your magnetic key card?


a. Customer’s name

b. Customer’s partial home address

c. Hotel room number

d. Check-in date and out dates

e. Customer’s 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 the information on these cards until an employee reissues the card to the next hotel guest. At that time, the new guest’s information is electronically “overwritten” on the card and the previous guest’s information is erased in the overwriting process.

But until the ca rd is rewri tten for the next guest, it usually is kept in a drawer at the front desk with YOUR INFORMATION ON IT!

The bottom line is: Keep the cards, take them home with you, or destroy them. NEVER leave them behind in the room or room wastebasket, and NEVER turn them into the front desk when you check out of a room. They will not charge you for the card (it’s illegal) and you’ll be sure you are not leaving a lot of valuable personal information on it that could be easily lifted off with any simple scanning device card reader.

For the same reason, if you arrive at the airport and discover you still have the card key in your pocket, do not toss it in an airport trash basket. Take it home and destroy it by cutting it up, especially thr ough the electronic information strip!

If you have a small magnet, pass it across the magnetic strip several times. Then try it in the door, it will not work. It erases everything on the card.

Information courtesy of: Pasadena Police Department

I did a little research, and according to the Pasadena police department, “it would appear that no hotels engage in the practice of storing personal information on key cards.”

So don’t bother bringing little magnets or scissors with you to destroy hotel key cards. And remember not to believe every email someone forwards you…

Filed Under: Hotel info

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Comments (5)

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  1. stlouismermaid says:

    Gosh, this urban myth has been around since 2003. Go to Snopes.com and type in “hotel room card key” in the search box and scroll down for the truth. The ONLY info on a hotel room card key is the room number it will open and for the number of nights it can be used.

  2. Tim Rand says:


  3. James Trotta says:

    Tim, I did say that the email is incorrect.

  4. Laurie says:

    I was gonna say…

    How could you check out of the hotel without going to the front desk and having them say, “Where are your room keys?” unless you did the check-out electronically, which most hotels offer, but not all. Anyway, glad to know it’s not true. Just another way to monger fear in today’s society.

  5. Chase says:

    I work at a hotel and JUST got a call, a woman did not want to use her card or give any information because she honestly believes that this is true. I work for Marriott, a very respectable and global hotel band. The card machine is not attached to the computer at all and has no information on it. You cant even use your room card key to buy something at the market next to the front desk. The ONLY thing that the card has on the magnetic stip is the code to the door i issue it to, and of course the laundry and fitness room and pool.

    The machine is not connected in anyway to the computer. In fact as soon as I enter a full cc number into the computer on someones reservation file it immediately converts all the numbers to X’s, even the last four digits! The hotel can never see the credit card number. Marriott cannot either. the computer will automatically charge you at check out unless you ask to pay cash, in which case the credit card will remain untouched and cash will be accepted instead.

    Hope this helps those who are weery of travel. Feel safe and rest assured, you dont need to worry about your card key giving away your identity!

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