The Marriott data breach

The Marriott data breach
December 4, 2018
Seena Gressin
Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC

Marriott International says that a breach of its Starwood guest reservation database exposed the personal information of up to 500 million people. If your information was exposed, there are steps you can take to help guard against its misuse.

According to Marriott, the hackers accessed people’s names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth, gender, Starwood loyalty program account information, and reservation information. For some, they also stole payment card numbers and expiration dates. Marriott says the payment card numbers were encrypted, but it does not yet know if the hackers also stole the information needed to decrypt them.

The hotel chain says the breach began in 2014 and anyone who made a reservation at a Starwood property on or before September 10, 2018 could be affected. Starwood brands include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, and other hotel and timeshare properties. The company set up an informational website,, and a call center, 877-273-9481, to answer questions. It says affected customers also can sign up for a year of free services that will monitor websites that criminals use to share people’s personal information. Marriott says the service will alert customers if their information shows up on the websites, and will also include fraud loss reimbursement and other services.

If your information was exposed, take advantage of the free monitoring service, and consider taking these additional steps:

* Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could signal identity theft. Visit to find out what to do.

* Review your payment card statements carefully. Look for credit or debit card charges you don’t recognize. If you find fraudulent charges, contact your credit card company or bank right away, report the fraud, and request a new payment card number.

* Place a fraud alert on your credit files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. A fraud alert is free and lasts a year.

* Consider placing a free credit freeze on your credit reports. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that it won’t stop a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.

Marriott says it will send some customers emails with a link to its informational website. Often, phishing scammers try to take advantage of situations like this. They pose as legitimate companies and send emails with links to fake websites to try to trick people into sharing their personal information. Marriott says its email will not have any attachments or request any information. Still, the safest bet is to access the informational website by typing in the address, To learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach, visit

Debt “don’ts” for the holiday season

Holiday spending will approach $1,000 per person this year, Ouch!!!! Here are some seasonal spending sins to avoid:

Winging it – As any general will tell you, it’s important to go into a battle with a plan. Take the time to set a budget you can afford, map out and prioritize your spending, and stick to the plan. Avoid borrowing money or delaying payments that you already have in place.

Forgetting to factor in the incidentals – Many folks equate holiday spending with gift buying and forget to plan for seasonal extras, such as family outings, entertaining, decorations, and travel costs. Include all holiday related expenses when setting your budget.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul – Avoid playing “cash flow” tricks by bumping regular bills to redirect money to holiday spending. Find ways to cut back on your monthly discretionary spending instead.

Starting too late – A late start can add to stress. Plus, procrastinating shoppers have less choice, pay more in shipping, and often wind up paying more due to last-minute pressure. Research and compare prices online and off, and buy early.

Falling for hype – Retailers have a lot of tricks to entice you. Don’t let sales sway you from your budget. Focus less on the idea of a bargain and more on the idea of the debt it could create.

Overlooking the best things in life – There’s a lot of truth to the old saying that the best things in life are free. The real meaning of the holidays can be found in family, friends, and time spent together. Instead of focusing on costly commercial gifts, consider homemade gifts, practical gifts, special favors, or gifts of time that will create memories.

Other low-cost ways to enjoy the holiday season:
• Spread joy through random acts of kindness.
• Stick to regular eating, sleeping and exercise routines to be at your best.
• Practice tolerance and patience. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
• Forgive and forget. The holidays are a great time to free yourself from the burden of old resentments, quarrels and grudges.