You might think your boarding pass is useless trash once you find your seat, but do not discard this piece of paper. Take it home and shred it. This advice might sound alarmist but read on. Your boarding pass is a gold mine for identity thieves.
Your boarding pass contains much more information than your name and seat number. At this point, you might have fished through your carry-on bag and found an old boarding pass. You might not detect much information on the paper, but that is because the data is encoded. Before you assume that encoded information is safe, you need to realize that a simple barcode scanner can unlock the encryption. You can buy a barcode scanner on Amazon for 20 dollars.
What a Con Artist Can Learn About You with a Barcode Scanner and Your Boarding Pass
The barcode on your boarding pass contains information like your name and details of your flight. The barcode also reveals your full airline account number. Some airline barcodes also contain your telephone number, email address, the reference code for your ticket and more.
A savvy scammer can take that information to harvest information from your social media accounts you might use to answer security questions to access your airline frequent flyer account. The hacker can steal your frequent flyer points or mess with your life, by canceling your future flights or changing your destinations.
Let’s say you are extremely careful about what you post on social media. The fraudster can get your password reset by calling the airlines and pretending to be you, sharing the personal information he gleaned from the barcode and whatever he found on social media.
The reference code is a six-digit code the airline assigns to you, so you can look up your reservation conveniently. This code is in the barcode information.
The scammer can input this code at the airline’s website, look up your reservation and find all of your travel information for the entire trips including other flights. He can also get the names and frequent flight account numbers of everyone who booked in the same reservation with you, like your spouse or children.
How to Protect Yourself from Boarding Pass Pirates
You have several options to make it harder for scammers to access the personal data the barcode on your boarding pass contains.
- You could use a digital/mobile boarding pass, by having the airlines email the boarding pass to you. The risks of this option are you might lose your phone, the phone battery might be dead, or you might not get a signal when you are in the airport and need to have your digital boarding pass scanned. You could save the barcode on your phone or take a picture of the barcode, so you do not have to go online or connect to your cell phone provider’s network to access it on your phone.
- If you prefer to use a paper boarding pass, guard it carefully. Do not leave it out in the open where someone could take a photo of it or scan it. Do not leave it on the plane. do not post photos on your boarding pass online. When you get home, shred that piece of paper.
HuffPost. “How Hackers Can Use Your Boarding Pass To Easily Steal Personal Information.” (accessed December 12, 2019) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hackers-boarding-pass-data_l_5de95730e4b00149f73d9ce3