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Data thieves target hotels and resorts

That could spell trouble for business travelers who submit credit card numbers and other personal information to hotel websites.

August 14, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • A TSA officer looks through a carry-on at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In June, the agency screened about 58 million airline passengers and 46 million checked bags.
A TSA officer looks through a carry-on at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International… (Erik S. Lesser, Associated…)

If you're a business traveler who books hotel rooms via the Internet, you may be at higher risk of being victimized by computer hackers and identity thieves.

Insurance claims for data theft worldwide jumped 56% last year, with a bigger number of those attacks targeting the hospitality industry, according to a new report by Willis Group Holdings, a British insurance firm.

The report said the largest share of cyber attacks — 38% — were aimed at hotels, resorts and tour companies.

That could spell trouble for business travelers who submit credit card numbers and other personal information to hotel websites, said Laurie Fraser, global markets leisure practice leader for Willis.

Fraser said large hotel chains are most vulnerable because hotel management companies may not be able to monitor how data is collected and stored at dozens or even hundreds of properties throughout the world. Independent contractors who work for individual hotels can also open the door to hackers and computer viruses, he said.

"There are various ways hackers can get into a hotel system," Fraser said.

Sherry Telford, a spokeswoman for InterContinental Hotels Group, one of the world's largest hotel companies, said InterContinental continually reviews its security measures.

"For obvious reasons," Telford said, "we cannot expand further upon the security measures in place."

A tax windfall for airlines

It's not like the Internal Revenue Service to forgive and forget, especially when it comes to uncollected taxes.

But that's what the federal tax collecting agency is doing about the two weeks when the Federal Aviation Administration stopped collecting taxes on airline tickets.

The FAA could not collect taxes from June 23 to Aug. 8 because its funding authority expired and feuding lawmakers in Washington could not agree on a new budget for the agency. Congress finally adopted a temporary funding deal that took effect Aug. 8.

The FAA collects 7.5% tax on the base ticket prices, plus $3.70 per person, for domestic flights. It charges higher per-trip rates for international flights.

Passengers who booked tickets before June 23 and flew on or after June 23 were charged federal taxes even though the FAA stopped collecting taxes. In a statement, the IRS said those passengers are not entitled to a refund.

As for those taxes that were not collected during the two-week tax holiday, the IRS said it won't ask airlines to pay the taxes retroactively.

That's a big win for the airlines, because most carriers increased their airfares to match the drop in taxes, generating about $28.5 million per day in extra revenue, according to industry experts.

TSA gets very few complaints

Talk to veteran travelers, and many will have an airport-screening horror story to tell. But it seems very few air passengers actually file complaints against the Transportation Security Administration.

In June, the TSA screened about 58 million airline passengers and 46 million checked bags.

During that month, the agency received 325 email or telephone complaints about the way TSA agents treated passengers, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Transportation Department. That's a fraction of 1% of the traveling public.

The number of complaints about the overall screening procedures was even lower: 33, according to the federal agency.

Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a consumer group in Washington, said there are so few complaints because travelers don't know how to file them with the TSA and don't want to bring unwanted attention to themselves.

Complaints can be submitted via email to TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov or by phone at (866) 289-9673.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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