Friday, March 23, 2007

Your Hotel Key Card Contains Personal Information and Credit Card Numbers

Friday's Urband Legend: FALSE

I received this warning in an email message from a friend.
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. 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 re-issues 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 card is rewritten 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.
Snopes debunks this urban myth at [Card Sharks].

They say,
In January 2006, Computerworld investigated the key card rumors by collecting and examining over 100 hotel card keys and found no personally identifiable information on any of them:
As part of a Computerworld investigation into the allegations, reporters and other staff members who traveled last fall brought back 52 hotel card keys over a six-week period. The cards came from a wide range of hotels and resorts, from Motel 6 to Hyatt Regency and Disney World. We scanned them using an ISO-standard card reader from MagTek Inc. in Carson, Calif. — the type anyone could buy online.

We then sent the cards to Terry Benson, engineering group leader at MagTek, for a more in-depth examination using specialized equipment. MagTek also gathered cards from its own staff. In all, 100 cards were tested.

Most cards were completely unreadable with an off-the-shelf card reader. Neither Benson nor Computerworld found any personally identifiable information on them. Based on these results, we think it's unlikely that hotel guests in the U.S. will find any personal information on their hotel card keys
We also purchased our own MagTek card scanner and have scanned several dozen magnetic room keys we acquired during our various hotel stays over the last few years and likewise found not a single key with any personal information stored on it.

Nevertheless, the rumor dies hard. In a followup report claims that there have been instances of personal information stored on a hotel key card [Hotel Key Cards: Identity Theft Risk or Not? "Mythbusters" Aside, the Answer's Not Clear-Cut]. In some cases it's because thieves have stolen hotel key cards and entered stolen credit card information so the key cards can be used as fake credit cards. In other cases, it appears there were hotels that encoded personal information in the past. (These reports sound a lot like hearsay.)


  1. Hey, at 14:20 of Matthew Rainbow's debate with Hovind he talks about the amount of engineers in the audience, further confirming Salem's hypothesis.

  2. THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE! I work at a hotel and the only information on a key is the room number and departure date.

  3. the answer is yes and no. Not all cards will contain personal data. However some cards may contain personal data. This depends on what the hotels system has been designed to do. In the normal course there is no reason to have any extraneous data in the stripe but the room nos. However for the sake of convenience some systems simply copy the credit card data on the keycard stripe and then the sytem is designed to link up the room nos. this is a bad practise and is a risky propsition and it exposes secret data and the key card when returned can be misused. It is hence safe not to return key cards to the front desk on check out.that way there is no chance of data being compromised.

    As a manufacturer of keycards I say this with a degree of authority.

  4. Hello,
    I think at the present time, almost every hotel and bed & breakfast services offer access card facility. Opening the door of your hotel room is a past thing now. In fact, the concept of hotel key cards is well-liked everywhere.