Michigan hotel guests victims of identity theft

Former guests at a Michigan hotel got a nasty surprise on their credit card statements this month. Around 150 guests at the Doherty Hotel and Convention Center in Clare, Michigan, found fraudulent charges on their credit card statements after staying at the hotel. Victims’ average fraudulent charges were around $2,500.

Authorities say they’re not sure whether the hotel’s system had been hacked or whether the cards were accessed by a criminal employee, but the hotel is cooperating with the investigation. This isn’t the first time a hotel has been targeted: LA’s Westin Bonaventure and the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, have both experienced similar crimes.

According to credit experts, hotel guests are at particularly high risk for identity theft, and travelers are encouraged to be extra vigilant when checking credit card statements while traveling and after.

[photo by Flickr user Andres Rueda]

Barefoot Bandit has travel cred

Now that Colton Harris-Moore has been nabbed by the prim and humorless Bahamian police, it’s open season on psychologically dissecting the teen robber and analyzing his high-jinks artistry. Love him or hate him, hero or criminal, one thing is certain: this kid gets around. If “well-traveled”, “worldly” and “ingenious” are positive traits (oh, and they are), then Colton darling deserves a congratulatory pat on his orange-jumpsuit-covered back.

Let’s review, shall we? By the fresh age of 19, the Barefoot Bandit has:

  • Taught himself to fly with video games and stole at least five planes for private scenic flights across the country, including his final jump to the Bahamas.
  • Enjoys fast boats and has managed to steal several sleek and expensive craft for high-speed joy rides across the Pacific Northwest and Florida.
  • Traveled thousands of miles in three countries and at least six states by way of stolen cars and bikes.
  • Used computer fraud to purchase bear mace and night vision goggles, which is not only totally bad ass, but something that every American male wishes he had in his backpack.
  • Survived on uninhabited islets and in the woods at a time when the average American teenager can barely survive at school.
  • Checked himself into other peoples’ private vacation homes for relaxation, eating fine foods from their fridges and soaking in their unused jacuzzi tubs, revealing a penchant for spa living.
  • Crossed back and forth across international borders sans passport, which is also impressive.
  • Stole from Canadians, Americans, and Bahamaians, showing no favorites or displaying any discrimination.
  • Took pictures of himself with various digital cameras in wild places, mimicking millions of tourists who do the same.
  • Hates shoes and travels mostly barefoot, an unwitting observer of TSA security checkpoint regulations.

The list goes on and on but the point is clear: Young Colton loved his freedom and suffers from interminable wanderlust. The guy has broken some serious state and federal laws and caused around $1.5 million worth of damage but he hasn’t harmed any humans. So the kid is a complete punk? So are most of the Israeli backpackers you meet in Bolivia and the Eurotrash in Thailand. Maybe all that Colton needed was an all-expenses paid gap year in which he got to choose his own itinerary and fly his own planes.

Good luck Colton. Not sure about Wi-Fi reception in prison, but if you keep reading Gadling you’ll soon discover that your insatiable travel itch is fairly universal. We, too love to fly across borders and hike into remote places and soak in hot tubs with a view. There is a legal way to do all these things, but if our brand of travel ever did become illegal, then my guess is that we’d all choose to be outlaws, just like you.

(Photo: Colton Harris-Moore, self-portrait)

Hotel employees nailed in $20 million airline ticket scam

The feds just threw down indictments against 38 people accused of pushing fraudulent airline tickets at hefty discounts. They were slashing between $100 and $200, usually, from the normal price of a (real) ticket. And at least two of them worked in hotels, where they were accused of swiping credit card and debit card information to keep the con afloat. Among the charges are: conspiracy, credit card theft and identity theft. The rings appear to have begun in 2001.

How did it work? In Los Angeles, according to USA Today:

The government’s 25-page indictment against Jason Burks and eight other defendants says that Raun Lauderdale Jr. was one of the people who would obtain stolen credit card and debit card information and sell it to Burks, who would then use it to fraudulently buy airline tickets. Lauderdale worked at an unidentified hotel in Long Beach, Calif. On one particular day in September 2009, Burks allegedly used a stolen American Express card number to buy $3,466.03 worth of airline tickets – an Alaska Airlines ticket from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and three US Airways tickets for travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans, records show. Prosecutors say this ring operated from July 25, 2007 to May 14, 2009.

And in Atlanta:

The government’s 31-page indictment against Steven James Palmer, based in Brooklyn, and nine other defendants based in cities such as Orlando, Los Angeles and Atlanta names another hotel worker. According to the document, Alexander Lewis, 25, of McDonough, Ga., stole credit card and debt card numbers from his jobs at unidentified Atlanta hotels. Lewis also went by an alias: “Mike Gotti,” the indictment says. Prosecutors say this ring operated between August 2008 and March 27, 2010.

The alleged scammers would pick up the tickets online with stolen credit card info and use text messages or e-mail to push discount codes to their customers, which could then be parlayed into boarding passes. To stay under the radar, the bookings were kept close to departure times. Advertising was kept to a minimum, and word of mouth was used to generate new “business.”

[photo by abardwell via Flickr]

New York City street vendors to accept credit cards

Starting in June, if you’ve got a hankering for some street meat in New York City, you’ll be able to use a credit card to purchase your kebab. As part of a trial program in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, select street vendors will begin accepting credit card payments for food.

If the initial response to the experiment is positive, it could be rolled out to all New York City street vendors in three or four months. Meaning that stale pretzels and soggy hot dogs may soon be no more than a credit card swipe away.

Beyond those snacks, there are some fantastic food carts in New York City that offer full meals ranging from Jamaican to Lebanese to Korean (and everything in between). So, while you may never have the need to charge $2.00 for a hot dog, being able to pay for a quick and delicious meal-to-go with a credit card may be just the thing to make you consider those food carts that you often just walk past.

Street vendors are wildly popular outside of the States. Here at Gadling we’re always promoting the joys of street food. These carts are only now beginning to catch on with wider audiences domestically as high-end food trucks and more elaborate carts have hit the streets. Here in New York, however, we’ve always been hip to street meat. And now we can charge it.

[Via Gawker via NYP]

Bring an emergency credit card – International travel tip

Pickpockets and thieves are rampant in certain parts of the world. While falling prey to one is unlikely, it always helps to be prepared. I recommend activating a new credit card before departing on your trip.

Remember to notify the card company you’ll be leaving the country and always keep it in a secure spot — separate and apart from the rest of your travel money! — wherever you’re staying.

In the event your wallet is lost or stolen, you can rely on you emergency card for the remainder of your trip.