Every time you hand your credit card to the hotel receptionist or the restaurant clerk, use the hotel computer to check email or surf a public Internet site, you put your identity at risk.
And while it's bad enough to discover someone is using your ID and credit when you're at home, it's far, far worse to make that discovery while you're off on a trip, a long way from home. Especially if you fly airplanes for a living. Trust me on this. I know from unhappy experience.
At the end of a fairly normal, multi-leg duty day I retrieved my flight bag from the back of the airplane to grab some cash to tip the hotel van driver and to check for voice-mail messages on my cell phone. I was surprised when I came up empty; neither the wallet nor phone were where I habitually stored them. Suddenly anxious, I started rummaging furiously through my flight case, but to no avail. Then I noticed my laptop was missing. A sick feeling came over me. When I told my crewmate that my stuff was missing, he began searching through his gear. Within moments he made the same discovery. We'd been cleaned out.
The realization that someone had boosted out valuables left us full of angry conjecture — we had one particular suspect in mind — but no solid conclusions or evidence. Of more immediate concern was the fact that we were both without any cash or credit cards. Our laptops were gone, as were our cell phones, so other than screaming, we couldn't communicate. Moreover, we had neither our driver's licenses nor our FAA airmen and medical certificates. We were in a bad way a long way from home.
The driver took us to the hotel and we apologized for being unable to tip him. Luckily the hotel reservation had been made on-line by our travel department and our company credit cards were in the reservation system. Normal procedure for the hotel front desk is to double-check a picture ID and get a hard copy of the credit card for the visit. The hotel chain was well acquainted with pilots from my company, and we were in our uniforms (which included our flight crewmember ID on a lanyard), so the customer service representatives allowed us to check in. That — and the fact that we were not on an international trip — were about the only positive factors in our otherwise unfavorable circumstances.
I didn't know it at the time, but American Express was already trying to contact me because of some “irregularities” noticed in my credit card spending over the previous 4 hr. However, since the thief had my cell phone, I never got the call.
Angry about my circumstances, I sat down in my hotel room and tried to remember which cards I had in my wallet. When a person is as upset as I was then, the memory banks get foggy. I recalled the “normal” cards that I use on an everyday basis, but was unsure of which other little-used cards I might have been carrying. As it turned out, there were two of those in my wallet. American Express recommends carrying only the bare minimum of credit cards for a trip, and now I understand why.