Have you taken a trip recently? Did you stay in a hotel? Did you trust that your money, valuables and important documents would be safe? This is not a doomsday issue, but you should take extra care when using a hotel safe. It is important to understand the security limitations of a safe owned by someone else.
You enter your new hotel room (well, new to you – germophobia is for another post), and get settled. At some point you realize that you don’t want to wear all your jewellery at once, or carry all your cash, or lug around your bulky passport. The hotel safe becomes your best friend.
When you approach the safe, there are usually very basic instructions in an obvious location, on how to program it. Have you stopped to wonder how they get the safe open/reset after the last super spy came through, and programmed a highly secure pin code?
All hotel safes (and I suppose safes in general) can be opened by at least one of the following methods:
- A master code
Many safes use a master pin that is coded at the manufacturer. In some cases this is hard-coded, meaning it can’t be changed. Whether the pin is hard-coded or the hotel staff just never changed it, you would be surprised at how easy these are to break. Before programming that hotel safe, be sure to try ‘000000’, ‘999999’, ‘123456’ and any other obvious options.
- A programmable card
Take a look at the outside of the safe. If it has a magnetic card strip/reader where, for example, you could slide your room key or credit card, then it can be unlocked by a card held by the hotel staff.
- A master key
If there is a keyhole, this safe can be opened by a master key, also held by the hotel staff.
- A third party plug-in unit
Again, take a look at the outside of the safe. If there is a ‘port’ or plug somewhere, then it can be opened with a ‘safe cracker’ or plug-in unit. Occasionally hotels will have one of these in house.
- A drill
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. All safes can be opened with a drill given time and the right drill bit. If you ever watch any auction-themed TV shows, they often find safes and with the 4 options above unavailable, they can be seen drilling for gold.
While there is no way to prevent the hotel staff from entering your safe, there are things you can do to minimize the chances of being ripped off.
- Ensure that there is no obvious master code.
- Ask the hotel how they reset the safes and who has access. You can decide on your level of comfort based on this.
- Take a picture of the open safe, with your valuables in view. Then take a picture of the safe closed/secure.
- Ensure your hotel room door is closed on your way out. Many times you will be ripped off because of opportunity.
- Do not leave any greatly expensive item (diamond ring) or sentimental item.
There are third party locks that you can buy to further secure your hotel safe but these are unproven and expensive.
I do tend to leave cash and passports in the hotel safe assuming it’s passed step 1. It’s probably not the best move, and passports may be a pain to replace. However, it’s nothing I can’t live without.
Take a look at this demonstration.
Readers: Have you ever had items disappear from a hotel safe?