Omni Hotels and Resorts just became the latest hotel chain to suffered a massive data breach joining Hyatt, Hotels, Starwood Hotels, Hilton Hotels and Trump Hotels who all suffered similar data breaches in the last year in which credit card and debit card information of their customers was stolen by unknown hackers. Although the data breach at Omni was just recently discovered, it goes back to December 23, 2015 and was stealing credit card and debit card data from Omni Hotels up until June 14, 2016. The Omni data breach affected forty-eight of Omni’s sixty hotels in North America. As often is the case, hackers who steal the credit and debit card data sell it in large batches to other cybercriminals on a part of the Internet called the Dark Web. The first batches of stolen credit cards and debit card information started turning up on the Dark Web in February of 2016. The hotel industry continues to be an easy target for hackers as it is an industry that services large numbers of people and often the hotels are individually operated franchises rather than operating under a central data security system. It should be noted, however, that Omni does not operate franchises.
The primary reasons for the continuing problem of data breaches at hotel chains are the weak cybersecurity of many hotel chains coupled with these companies still using credit card and debit card processors for cards with magnetic strips rather than the safer smart EMV chip cards. Regulations effective October 1, 2015 mandated credit card issuers and retailers switch over to the new smart EMV chip cards or risk increased legal liability, but unfortunately, many companies have been slow to switch to the new card processing equipment. If smart EMV chip cards had been used at Omni hotels, the card information that was stolen would have been worthless, but since they still used the old fashioned magnetic strip cards, Omni and its customers face financial problems from this data breach.
Until credit card issuing companies and brick and mortar stores and businesses that take credit cards switch to the new smart EMV chip cards, this story will, as I predicted more than a year ago, continue to occur again and again. As for us, as consumers, the best we can do is to refrain from using our debit cards for anything other than an ATM card because consumers whose debit card security has been breached are not protected as much as when a credit card is used for fraudulent purchases. In addition, if you do not already have a new smart EMV chip card, you should demand one from your credit card company. You also should regularly monitor your credit card statements for indications of fraudulent use.
Certainly if you have been an Omni customer since December 23, 2015 you should carefully review your credit and debit card statements for indications of identity theft and fraudulent charges. If you were affected by this particular data breach, Omni is offering free credit monitoring services for a year through AllClear ID. You can sign up for these services by clicking on this link https://omnihotels.allclearid.com/