RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the most heavily traveled times of the year...but if your travel plans this year include a stay at a hotel -- beware! Tonight - our hidden camera investigation reveals what you need to know before ever leaving the house.
Mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Our volunteer is checking in to an upscale, Chesterfield hotel. Now walking into the lobby is NBC-12 producer, Matt Boyce, posing as a guest. His job is to figure out our volunteer's full name, her room number, and later, the ultimate prize, get a key to her room.
Matt engages one of the desk clerks, asking directions, all the while eaves-dropping as our volunteer gets checked in. He now knows her name is Liz Dueweke. He rides up in the elevator with her and quickly figures out she's in room 626.
Fast forward about three hours. Matt, this time posing as our volunteer's boyfriend, tries to trick the clerk into re-programming his key to open Liz's room:
Matt - "Hi, how you doing? Can I get this re-programmed; it must have gotten de-magged or something."
Clerk - "What room?"
Matt - "626."
Clerk - "You have any ID on you, by chance?"
Matt - "Uh, I don't. It was my girlfriend that registered the room though, Dueweke, D-U-E-W-E-K-E."
She asked for Matt's ID, but didn't get it. Still, she walks out of frame, and re-programs his card-key anyway:
Clerk - "There you go."
Matt - "Thanks."
Local private investigator Emiel Fisher watched the hidden camera video. Emiel is a security expert and in the past, has traveled to hot-spots all over the world working as a personal body guard for NBC News correspondents.
"A criminal is good at what he does, because he is at what he does....and he's gonna take in everything," said Emiel.
Let's go back to when Liz first checked in. The clerk asked for her name and Liz announced it.
"Never announce personal information," Emiel said.
Emiel also suggests booking the room on-line and hand the clerk a print-out of the confirmation number instead.
"If you print out the confirmation, have your driver's license ready, the credit card with which you're gonna pay for it, or which you reserved the room, that is what you hand over to the person, and they'll have it all right there," he said.
And when checking in...
"Be wary of the people around you," said Emiel.
It's okay in some instances to be rude.
"Do not be afraid to step in front of somebody or between them, between you and what you're writing down or what you're handing to the clerk, or whatever," Emiel said.
Of course, not all hotels will be so willing to turn over a key to your room to a stranger. We tried the exact same thing at another Richmond area hotel and didn't get the same result.
Clerk - "I unfortunately can't give you a key to her room 'cause your name is not on the reservation."
Crooks will scan the crowd in a hotel lobby, looking for the easiest mark - make sure that person is not you.
"The weakest link would be the person who is pulling their stuff out, it's falling all over the place, they're flustered obviously, they're talking to people - they're making new friends before taking care of business - and that's a problem," Emiel said.
Our security expert also suggests that once in your room, use all of the locks - the deal-bolt, and the door chain. Also, if your room has a sliding glass door and there's no door jam to insert in the tracks - call down to the front desk and ask for one.