Airline Boarding Passes – First class tickets to identity theft?

Boarding Pass

Your boarding pass contains far more information than you might think.

It happens all the time. You've survived the lines, the security screening, and the delays. You've eaten a few pretzels and have finally arrived at your destination. Shortly after departing the plane, picking up your baggage, or arriving at your hotel, your boarding pass ends up in the trash.  Why not, you have arrived and have no more use of it. It is of no use to anyone - or is it?

Actually it is. Identity thieves use these boarding passes to learn valuable personal information. The typical boarding pass contains much more information than you might think. Various bits of information live in the "QR code" or "barcode".

Thieves use apps to decipher the barcode on your boarding pass and access your personal information. Each airline uses a different system and may store different information. Depending on the information present, your airline miles and flight information may be at risk. With this information they may be able to cancel or alter your remaining flights.

Last August, a test was run by Steve Hui, an air travel safety specialist, to see what information he could steal from a boarding pass. Mr. Hui was able to quickly get information about the passenger including:

  • name,
  • E-Ticket number,
  • booking reference,
  • and frequent flyer number.

This basic information enabled him to log into the booking system and view:

  • the full itinerary,
  • frequent flyer details,
  • a full breakdown of the fare paid,
  • and last four digits of the credit card used.

At that point, he could have done any number of things:

  • from a simple prank (switching seat numbers),
  • to an inconvenience (canceling the flight),
  • to theft (taking over or altering the frequent flyer account),

any of which could ruin your vacation.

QR Code

Now you know - don't just toss your boarding passes (or other documents with barcodes on them). Burn them, shred them, or dispose of them the same way you would any other important documentation.

Problem solved, but there are still risks.

In the excitement of going on vacation, it is common to boast to your friends and family about your trip. How? Social media. Posting pictures of your boarding passes is a popular way to showcase your destination.

"Look at me, I'm going to Paris for the week..."

These harmless images are the equal of handing your boarding pass over to thieves. Why hang out suspiciously at the airport or other travel spots hoping to find a discarded pass? Thanks to your photo, they can accomplish the same thing from the comforts of home and with less risk.

Thieves don't need the physical boarding pass. They can get the same information from a picture of the boarding pass. It is as easy to scan the picture as it is the paper pass.

The risks are real but avoidable. Be sensible about what you do with your boarding passes and what you post online. Keep the boarding passes out of your pictures. Instead, show off your new tacky Hawaiian shirt. Post a picture of that big smile on your face as you head off on that much-needed vacation. You will get more "likes" from your friends and less unwanted attention form thieves.

Sue Pelletier. What You Don't Know About Boarding Passes (But Identity Thieves Do). Published on 3/7/17. Accessed on 3/15/17.

VIPRE Security News. Posting a Photo of Your Airline Boarding Pass Can Get You Hacked. Published on 1/4/17. Accessed on 3/15/17. Here’s Why You Should Never Post a Photograph of Your Boarding Pass Online. Accessed on 3/15/17.

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