Going on a trip is so exciting—but unfortunately it’s also a great opportunity to get scammed. You know why a luggage lock isn't very secure; you’re neurotic about knowing where your passport and wallet are at all times. But there’s one little item that’s more important than you realized: your boarding pass.
A boarding pass seems innocent enough. The information isn’t particularly revealing…right?
Not so fast. Anyone with their hands on your boarding pass can find out your name and where you’re headed, but even covering part of that can leave that information—and more—out in the open.
Airlines aren’t the only ones that can scan the barcode on your boarding pass. Websites can read the barcodes, giving hackers access to more information than you want. "With simple information from a boarding pass such as the booking number, it’s possible for a hacker to gain access to the traveler’s seat number, frequent flyer details, fare paid and last four digits of the credit card number used to purchase the ticket,” Experian’s vice president of consumer protection, Michael Bruemmer, tells Forbes. Not exactly data you’re itching to give away.
Knowing your frequent flyer number makes it easy for hackers to mess with you. Once they get on your account (it's easy enough to get through security questions when Google knows more about you than you realized), they can cancel your flight, change your seat, and more. A Guardian reporter was even able to find a stranger's passport number from a discarded boarding pass in 2006.
Snopes points out it’s unlikely a boarding pass could lead crooks to particularly sensitive information like bank details, and the chance of getting hacked is rare. “I’ve spent almost every day for the last 20 years advocating travel related consumer cases. I have not heard of personal information being compromised in this way,” travel expert and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott tells Snopes. “That said, it is possible that this represents a security risk.”
Just in case, shred a boarding pass at home instead of tossing it in the trash at the airport, suggests Mark Jones on tech insider site Komando.com. But stay private in the digital world, too, by resisting the temptation to show off your boarding pass on Instagram. Even if you carefully cover the text, leaving the barcode in the picture can make all that private information public. (Don't miss these other photos you should never share on social media.) May we suggest a window shot midair instead?