Marriott's Starwood Data Breach Affects 500 Million People. Here's What to Do If You're One of Them

iStock.com/RoBeDeRo
iStock.com/RoBeDeRo

Another major data breach has compromised the personal information of up to 500 million people. Guests of Marriott International's Starwood Hotels—which includes hotel brands like Sheraton, Westin, W, Aloft, and St. Regis—who made reservations on or before September 10, 2018 are at risk, according to The Washington Post.

Marriott says that because the Starwood leak dates back all the way to 2014 (before Marriott International's acquisition of the company in 2016), the full extent of the breach isn't yet clear. However, we do know that the data that hackers were able to access from the Starwood Hotels reservation system involved more than just your preference for a queen- or king-sized bed.

The leak included names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, birthdays, gender, loyalty program account info, and reservation info, including arrival and departure dates. Though the credit card information on file was encrypted, the hotel chain can't guarantee that the hackers aren't able to decrypt those customers' card numbers and expiration dates. Roughly 327 million guests were involved with the wide-ranging leak, while a lesser number only had their names, addresses, email addresses, and some other limited information shared with hackers.

According to the MIT Technology Review, it's one of the biggest data thefts ever. So what are current and former Starwood guests supposed to do?

Beware of Phishing.

If you have stayed at one of Marriott's Starwood brands (and there are a lot of them), be on the lookout for an email from Marriott notifying you that your data might have been stolen. If you do receive an email, make sure that it's not a phishing attempt by someone looking to capitalize on the situation. Legitimate emails will come from starwoodhotels@email-marriott.com. "Please note that the email you may receive from us will not contain any attachments or request any information from you, and any links will only bring you back to this webpage," the Marriott page explaining the incident warns. (The company won't ask for your password or other information over the phone, either.)

Sign Up for Fraud Monitoring.

To help customers whose data was stolen, Marriott is offering a free year of fraud monitoring from WebWatcher. The program monitors sites where your personal information may be shared and alerts you if your data pops up. It offers reimbursement for legal costs and expenses associated with identity theft and access to a fraud specialist who can help you through the process of monitoring and protecting your data.

Watch Your Accounts.

Marriott is also encouraging guests to monitor their Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty accounts, change their passwords (use a password manager and two-factor authentication), be careful of phishing attempts, and, if they think their identity has been stolen, contact law enforcement.

Sign Up for Credit Alerts.

To be really safe, you may also want to place a credit alert with the major credit bureaus, which will make it harder for someone to open new accounts and lines of credit in your name.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

HBO Max: Everything You Need to Know About the New Streaming Service

What will you binge-watch first?
What will you binge-watch first?
WarnerMedia

This week, WarnerMedia launched HBO Max, the long-awaited streaming platform that the company hopes can compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney+. But with HBO GO and HBO NOW already in existence, the addition of a third platform for HBO content has caused no small amount of confusion among both prospective customers and current HBO subscribers. Here are answers to all your burning questions about the buzzworthy new service.

What is HBO Max?

HBO Max is a direct-to-consumer streaming platform that you can download as an app or access through your cable or internet provider. Just like Apple has Apple TV+ and Amazon has Prime Video, WarnerMedia now has HBO Max.

How is HBO Max different from HBO NOW and HBO GO?

hbo max streaming platform
This user's viewing habits are eclectic, to say the least.
WarnerMedia

Before HBO Max, WarnerMedia had two different apps with the same library of HBO series and certain Warner Bros. films. HBO GO is for viewers who already pay for HBO through their cable TV provider, which is why you have to log in through your TV provider. HBO NOW is for independent subscribers who pay $15 a month for access to the same content. In other words, HBO GO is for customers with cable, and HBO NOW is for those without it.

Like HBO NOW, HBO Max is an independent subscription service that you don’t need a TV provider in order to access. The main difference comes down to content: While HBO NOW and HBO GO only include HBO series and some films, HBO Max offers tons of additional shows and films licensed from other distributors—plus new, exclusive originals (more on that in a minute).

How much does HBO Max cost, and how do I get it?

You can sign up for HBO Max here. Your first seven days will be free, and it will cost you $15 per month after that.

Do I already have access to HBO Max?

If you’re already an HBO NOW subscriber, your app should have automatically updated to the HBO Max app (if you don’t have automatic updates enabled, make sure to update it manually), and you can log into HBO Max using your existing HBO NOW credentials. Your recurring monthly payment of $15 will also now automatically start applying to HBO Max instead of HBO NOW.

If you watch HBO through your TV or mobile provider, there’s a good chance you can access HBO Max at no additional cost, too. Apple TV channels, AT&T TV, DIRECTV, Hulu, Spectrum, Verizon FIOS, Xfinity, and many other providers are included—you can see the full list here.

Which platforms will HBO Max be on?

You can stream HBO Max on your desktop on HBOMax.com, or you can download the app through the Apple app store, Google Play, or Samsung TV. You can also access HBO Max content on your TV through any of the providers listed here.

What's playing on HBO Max?

hbo max channel hubs
Elmo and James Dean in the same place, at last.
WarnerMedia

HBO Max boasts 10,000 hours of content that includes all HBO shows, many Warner Bros. films from the past century, new Max Original series, and other programs from CNN, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, TCM, Adult Swim, and more.

To name a few highlights, the service currently offers all eight Harry Potter films, all 10 seasons of Friends, an exclusive selection of Studio Ghibli classics like Howl’s Moving Castle (2005) and Spirited Away (2002), and 2019’s Joker. The first few episodes of some highly-anticipated Max Originals are also available, including Anna Kendrick’s rom-com series Love Life, the voguing house reality competition Legendary, and Sesame Workshop's The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo (featuring guests Kacey Musgraves, John Mulaney, the Jonas Brothers, Lil Nas X, and more—so far).

Will I get to see the Friends Reunion?

Yes, the Friends reunion will definitely debut on HBO Max, but no air date has been confirmed yet. Production was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re tentatively hoping to film it sometime this summer. (But hey, at least you have access to all the other Friends episodes to help you pass the time.)