June 24, 2010 -- Computer hackers targeting travelers at luxury hotels across the country made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past three months by breaking into the computer system of a national hotel chain and stealing the guests' credit card information, Texas police officials told ABC News today
Destination Hotels & Resorts had its computer system hacked and the credit card data of more than 700 guests across the country was stolen, according to Austin, Texas, police. The Englewood, Colo., company manages more than 30 upscale hotels, resorts and conference centers in places such as Washington, D.C., Denver, San Diego, Santa Fe, Aspen, Colo., Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Calif., Houston and Lake Tahoe.
In Austin, more than three dozen guests and diners at the posh Driskill Hotel had their data stolen after spending a night there or eating at the hotel's two restaurants.
The police said the security hole has been fixed but that the unknown criminals had access to the data for months.
"The losses right now are probably in the hundreds of thousands. I think each loss is averaging about two or three thousand dollars," said Austin Police Department Sgt. Matt Greer.
The stolen numbers were then being used overseas, mostly in Europe, Greer told ABC News.
"It's a result of somebody hacking into the system, not somebody at the hotel," he said.
Spokesman for both the Driskill and its parent company Destination Hotels & Resorts did not immediately return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Austin Police learned of the data breach from both customers who noticed odd charges on their statements and from the banks that had issued the cards and noticed unusual patterns.
"When we started our investigation and began to contact the company, we learned they were already investigating the breach," Greer said.
Credit Card Protection for Travelers
Credit card companies typically cover consumers' liability in credit card theft situations. But customers need to report the mistakes in a timely manner.
"Check your credit card statements," Greer said, "and I always tell people to periodically check your credit report."
Brooke Ferencsik, of travel site TripAdvisor, suggested that consumers keep a watchful eye on their accounts both during and after traveling.
"Credit card theft can happen anywhere. It can happen at a restaurant. It can happen at your hometown supermarket," Ferencsik said. "It really seems like this is a bit of a random incident."
His tips for travelers: keep the phone number of your credit card company on hand and review your online statement every once in a while during your trip.
He also noted that credit cards offer 100 protection from theft, as long as you report your loss in a timely manner.
"Credit cards still remain the most convenient method of payment for most travelers," Ferencsik said, "and it's often safer than carrying around cash."