CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Experts are warning of a lesser-known way cyber thieves can steal from you and another reason to protect your identity, all because of a used airline boarding pass.
It takes only few taps on the computer screen, and the airline kiosk will spit out your boarding pass if you haven't printed it at home. Katie Crosby recently printed a pass at the Charleston International Airport that will get her through security and into her seat on the plane. After her flight, Crosby said she planned to toss it in the trash can at the airport.
But a cyber forensics specialist warns the boarding passes contain information you don't want to fall into the wrong hands.
"We should all work toward securing our digital life, and this is part of it," Jeremy Gilbert, a Master Analyst in Financial Forensics at Dixon, Hughes, Goodman, LLC, said.
Crosby's boarding pass isn't the only one to hit the trash can.
A quick scan at the airport easily found four airline boarding passes thrown into airport trash cans.
"One of the passes that you gave me was clearly for a first class ticket, which would be a high dollar target for an identity thief," Gilbert said.
And it shows the passenger has more than average miles with "Sapphire" privileges.
"You can't get a social security number from the boarding pass, but it gives you a lot of other information," Gilbert said. "It gives you a jumping off point to go down that road and steal someone's identity."
Even Gilbert's identity has been stolen. But he said the thieves were arrested.
"They had everything: my name, my social security number, my address where I lived, phone number. They had all the information about me," he said.
So he helps others guard against identity theft.
Gilbert demonstrated with a bar code scanner that the bar code on a boarding pass reveals a frequent flier number. Airlines and the TSA use the barcodes, and according to the International Air Transport Association, they can be accessed from anywhere, even a mobile phone.
During a test using a free app downloaded on a cell phone, a scan of a boarding pass revealed several lines of numbers, including the frequent flyer number in seconds.
"I would say having that number and having that information about that person would be enough to call that airline and convince them to provide access to that account," Gilbert said.
That means thieves could steal your miles, even purchase a gift card with your miles. Bottom line, Gilbert said, it's important to take steps to protect yourself.
"So I'd try to treat boarding passes as a bank statement or credit card statement," he said. "And if I have to use a paper boarding pass, shred it."
Better yet, Gilbert suggests using the boarding pass app on your smart phone, and deleting your boarding pass immediately after your flight.
As for Crosby's paper boarding pass, she said she is going to change her habits.
"This is going to go in my pocketbook and I'm going to take care of it at home for sure," she said. "It's definitely not going in that trash can."
A spokesman for American Airlines recommends shreding any paper boarding passes after your trip.
Delta Airlines suggests changing your password frequently.
Also, experts warn, never use hotel or airport wi-fi to check into your flight. An unsecured connection leaves you vulnerable to hacking.