Is your hotel room safe from phone scams?

It’s late at night and you’re asleep in a hotel room when you’re awakened by the room’s telephone. The caller identifies himself as the hotel manager and says he needs to get your credit card information again because of a hotel computer problem. Phone scams are the last thing on your mind.

What would you do if this happened to you?

That’s the call Pallavi Kumar got during a recent stay at a Hyatt hotel in New York. What happened to her and the way she handled it serve as an important warning about a recurrent scam that targets travelers; you have to keep your guard up, even in your hotel room.

It was just before midnight when the phone rang. She was initially disoriented when she answered the call and tried to process what she was hearing.

As I started to wake up, I asked why they needed the credit card now in the middle of the night.
He said it was because the computer resets at midnight. He said I could go down to the front desk and take care of it but there was quite a line so it would be quicker to do it over the phone.
I said this is all very strange. He said I was the only one that had a problem with it and that they were offering 25 percent off the room rate for the inconvenience. He was insistent that I take care of it.

Kumar was suspicious, so she used her cell phone to call the hotel’s main number. By the time she was connected to the front desk, the caller had hung up. The front desk worker told her that no one from the hotel staff had placed such a call and indicated that other guests had inquired about similar calls.

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After a sleepless night, Kumar tried to follow up with the hotel staff about their security procedures but wasn’t satisfied with the response. Their assumption was that the call had been placed by someone staying in another room.
Kumar is worried that it might have been a security lapse with an outside call, a phone system hack or even, as she put it, “an inside job.”

The hotel staff believe otherwise. A Hyatt risk management specialist told her a few days later that the call was made by a guest staying at the hotel and that it “happens everywhere.”

In my experience, good hotels have a basic phone security procedure for dealing with incoming calls. If an outside caller asks to be connected to a specific room number, the operator will first ask for the name of the guest. On the other hand, someone who is already staying there can generally use a room phone to directly dial any other room.

What Kumar experienced is an old and common scam. A quick online search on the phrase “hotel room call scams” will lead you to many stories recounting calls that sound almost identical to the one Kumar got. They tend to come late at night when the victims are sleeping and when scammers count on victims not wanting to get dressed to go to the front desk.

If you get a call like that, assume it’s bogus. Hotel staff will not call you and ask for your credit card information on the phone. Instead of giving out your credit card number, tell the caller you will go to the front desk to take care of it. Or, if you’re in doubt, do what Kumar did and use your cell phone to call the hotel’s main number. Don’t fall for the offer of a discount for taking care of it on the phone.

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We tend to think of phishing scams as coming via email. But con artists don’t need to be technical whizzes to do their phishing by phone. There are phone scams where the caller claims to be from the target’s credit card issuer or bank and needs to verify a credit card or bank account number.

Neither the hotel, nor the bank, nor the credit card company will call you and ask you to give them your credit card number. Protect yourself by starting with the assumption that such a call is a scam.

Those aren’t the only phone scams that might target you. In my next story I’ll describe some others, including one that cost a woman more than $4,000.

After her stay, Kumar received a follow-up note from the hotel’s actual general manager.

I completely understand how being contacted by someone requesting personal information can be very alarming. There are scammers out there who try and contact guest rooms in hotels to conduct fraud.
We would never contact our guests for any personal information over the phone. We would always ask the guest to come to the front desk. When we were made aware of these calls during the overnight hours we had our phone company complete some testing to ensure that our phone lines were working accurately.
We unfortunately cannot control the scammers from trying to call rooms but please know that should this occur in the future at our hotel or any other hotel, please do not give any personal information.

The hotel manager put 15,000 points into her Hyatt loyalty program account. But that was by way of apology for the delay in responding caused by being out of the office, not for any security lapse on the hotel’s part.

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Kumar wanted us to write about this experience as a warning to other travelers.

“I consider myself a savvy traveler but I almost fell for it,” she says. “I am blaming the fact that I was disoriented from sleeping but still feel pretty stupid. It was nice of them to give me 15,000 points though I remain unsatisfied with their overall response.”

Is 15,000 Hyatt points enough compensation?

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Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

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