June 14, 2010
While today's consumers are well versed in the dangers of "virtual" robberies -- identity, credit card numbers -- this situation reveals the possibility of more physical theft, in which individuals with access to cruise lines' reservations systems can match trip dates to home addresses and identify houses to burglarize.
As you may have read, a Royal Caribbean employee abused her position with the cruise line to identify customers away on cruises and then conspired with her husband to rob their homes during the first nights of their vacations. She was caught, arrested and charged with multiple counts of burglary, and the cruise line has since fired her.
The bottom line? Your home is always at risk when you're on vacation, so take measures to protect yourself. Even if no one knows your cruise date and home location, you do run some risk when you leave your home alone for a long period of time. Get an alarm system, put your lights on a timer, stop your mail so it won't pile up, have a trusted friend check on your home once or twice while you're gone -- these are just some of the things you can do to minimize your chances of getting burglarized while you're away on a trip.
After speaking with cruise line representatives and travel agencies, we learned some more:
Safeguarding your information starts at the hiring level. Both cruise lines and travel agencies run background checks of employees before they hire them -- looking at criminal and financial history and checking references. They are going to hire the best people for the job, and, as far as they can tell, the most honest.
Although information such as name, address and sailing date need to be available to certain employees, access is restricted. "While address and sailing date are generally more accessible than credit card information," says Anthony Hamawy, president of Cruise.com, "only people in customer service departments can access them." Tim Rubacky, spokesman for Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, concurs, saying that even certain searches are restricted; for example, while a reservations agent can look up a booking by name and sail date, only select departments can run searches by home city. So while your address and sail date need to be available for agents and representatives to do their jobs, that information is only available to those who need to use it. Plus, companies take extra precautions, such as restricting building access to working hours and recording who accesses which reservations and what changes they make, so they can track who had access and when.
Precautions are in place -- even if companies won't tell you specifics. We reached out to cruise lines and travel agency executives for specifics and learned that they do take additional precautions to protect their data -- your personal information -- but in order to keep those procedures secure, they can't always reveal them. "We have a number of processes and systems in place to safeguard the integrity and confidentiality of our guest information," reads an official statement from Royal Caribbean, "and while we are undertaking a full review of the actions of this former employee, it would not be appropriate to discuss current or future security measures."
This is an isolated event, not a trend. "I don't remember a situation like this ever happening in the 20 years I've been in the cruise industry," says Hamawy. "It's one incident out of millions of people who travel on cruises. The odds say there's a better chance you'll get robbed at the grocery store." While you should take this incident seriously and think about what personal information you give out, this is certainly not a reason to become paranoid and stop cruising or working with travel professionals.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor