Urban Legends

Hotel Room Keycards of Doom

The Legend

Submitted via e-mail in May 2005

Southern California police have issued a warning about a new type of information scam based on hotel keycards of the kind that are used in hotels with keycard entry systems. Apparently, when you stay at a Double Tree hotel (or any other hotel with a tree in its name, possibly indicating that it has been infiltrated by Druids), they give you a key card to get into your hotel room. On that keycard is a magnetic strip, and on that magnetic strip is a bunch of little tiny magnets, and those magnets are arranged by computer to contain your personal information, including:

  • Your name
  • The names of everyone with you
  • Your home address
  • Your check-in and check-out dates
  • Your e-mail address
  • Your photo
  • Certain details of your sex life
  • Even your hotel room number!!!

At the end of your trip when you turn your key in, an unscrupulous clerk or bandit can make off with the keys and, using a magnifying glass, read all of this personal data spelled out in magnets! They can then use this information to e-mail you spam, make prank phone calls, or create a disguise so convincing that they can take your place and even your spouse will never know the difference!

The solution is to NEVER stay at a hotel that doesn't have normal locks, and if you do stay at one of those keycard hotels and leave the card behind, NEVER check your e-mail or answer the phone after that!


There's a new scam going around, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation of Scams recently released a press release to the press about it. It seems that some hotels are using card readers to open their guests' room doors instead of using keys. So when you check into the hotel, they ask for your credit card, and then they give it back to you and say that it's your keycard to get into your room. The idea is that it's supposed to look convenient to be able to get into your room with your credit card, but what you don't know is that they are charging you every time you swipe your card (which is why you also have to sign something whenever you enter your room), and they are also hoping that you will forget that your key is also your credit card and just leave it behind when you check out.

So the moral is, when you go to a hotel, never give them your credit card. Just pay with cash and everything will be fine.

Behind the Legend

Most hotels these days use keycards instead of room keys, both because keys are expensive and because you can use a keycard like a credit card to pop open the lock of a room that you're having trouble getting into. It's also true that there's no way to tell what kind of crazy information they are putting on your room key card. Oh sure, most hotels will say that there's just some code number on there and nothing personal, but isn't a code number that identifies me personal? I'd think so.

So, despite the fact that the big hotel chains say that there's nothing dangerous here, we recommend that you never turn in your key card when you leave a hotel. Just throw it in your luggage with the towels and forget it.

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