Frequent Flyer Mile Scams: Are Your Miles Secure?

by on August 25, 2012 · 9 comments

in Points Guy Pointers

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Miles and points are a form of currency- these days they can be redeemed for a whole lot more than just travel. That flexibility is valuable, so it’s not surprising that there are scammers out there looking to gain access to your accounts to not only drain your miles, but also gain access to the bevy of personal and credit card information stored in online profiles.

Fraud and identity theft isn’t news in the credit card world, but I recently came across an interesting article by Jennifer Walters, the consumer reporter for MarketWatch, about schemes to access frequent flyer accounts. Is nothing sacred anymore?!

The good news is that these scams seem to be a bit more rudimentary than your average credit card identity theft. Scammers email frequent flyer members “phishing” for account information by pretending they’re official airline representatives.

According to Walters: “You get an email from a trusted source, like an airline or travel site or travel agent, notifying you that you have won more miles or confirming a charge for a flight or hotel stay that you did not book.”

The phisher then asks the target to provide verification information on the account in order to either register the fake “prize” or cancel the fake reservation. Then they have complete access to that person’s account.

Some people were conned out of their miles because they received faxes from their airlines saying they’d won roundtrip tickets and needed to call in with their account information to claim them.

Potentially even worse than losing your mile is if you click on a fraudulent link in a phishing email or enter in any personal information, you could be opening up your computer to malware, which can then steal even more of your personal information, putting your entire financial identity at risk.

As always, treat all unsolicited emails – ones you haven’t signed up for, not your monthly AAdvantage email newsletter – with suspicion, look at links carefully before clicking on them, and if in doubt, call the airline directly at a number that you find by going to their site, NOT a number in the email. It could mean the difference between keeping your miles safe, or watching someone wreak havoc with your credit.

Several airlines have fraud warnings and reporting systems for consumers. Here are the ones I found:

American Airlines
British Airways
US Airways

Report any fraud as soon as your find it because airlines aren’t liable for miles stolen from your account, but the sooner you catch any fraudulent activity, then better the chances are of them figuring out who was responsible and you getting your miles back.

To prevent this, treat your frequent flyer accounts like bank account logins: change passwords frequently and constantly monitor for unauthorized activity. I personally like American AAdvantage’s system of emailing a receipt every time miles are redeemed from your account and I wish other airlines had similar systems to alert you when miles are used.

I luckily haven’t had to deal with this, but would love to hear from anyone who has, so please comment below with any positive/negative experiences with mileage theft and fraud.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • WJB

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been getting emails about flights I have not booked regularly the last few weeks. These scammers and crooks are everywhere. Be careful all.

  • Peach Front

    This scam has been attacking Delta flyers for months. I don’t open any emails from Delta that I don’t expect. Instead, I visit their website or call them (admittedly easier to get someone on the phone if you’re Gold or higher). There is a warning on the Delta site about this. The problem is that scammers and spammers almost never get prosecuted so these guys can’t resist playing the odds. Changing your password often, while we all do it to feel better, is absolutely worthless against these scams, which rely more on social engineering to get you to give them the information. They are not hacking passwords, they are conning you to come to them.

  • Dbennett

    Funny, I also keep getting emails about US Airways flights I didn’t book. Since I never fly on them or have a FF account I didn’t even open the emails. Figured it was some sort of scam.

  • MileValue

    Accessing accounts and using miles seems crazy since their is a record of the flyer. Using loyalty programs as the “trusted source” behind traditional scams makes more sense to me.

  • StockPhotographer

    Related: magazine subscription services saying miles are about to expire, use them now…

  • fishcake

    I used to work in customer service. From time to time, I would receive calls from someone with an account#, trying to book reward nights in a hotel. However, they seem to forget their password, and was unable to provide correct information when asked about their past stays or even their own address – sometimes, the record shows that a hotel stay was made just less than a month ago. In response to the security questions, they may act irritated, demand to speak to a supervisor or even raise their voice, in order to intimidate the agent they spoke with. My advise is to keep your account number safe. Information like your past stays, address, room preference (high/low floor) can be used to reset your password. Please be nice to customer service you are speaking with. They are trying their best to remain friendly, efficient, and protecting your points at the same time. :-)

  • Bruce

    I just discovered that just under 400,000 miles on United were stolen from my account for the purchase of three iMac computers. The thief got into my account, changed the email address, and then ordered a computer and had it shipped to an address in another state. This was done three times over the course of three months. UAL is now investigating it. So far I am not at all impressed with UAL’s sense of urgency or concern. The same thing happened to me several years ago and I don’t give my password out to ANYONE. I believe it is some sort of inside job.

  • carolyn

    You are missing the point here. FF mile programs are designed to augment the wealth of the investors and owners, the millionaires and billionaires of monopoly transport corporations i.e. Airlines. They are customer recruitment schemes, no different than that of your grocery store. The only ones who benefit are business people who’s company pays for the tickets. They can cash in their 50,000 miles to send their little spoiled teenager to Paris for her summer backpacking trip. How much did those 50,000 miles cost? Probably about 10 to 20,000 (USD). Why not just pay for a round trip to Paris? Americans are so frickin naïve about this ‘points system’ marketing craze

  • carolyn

    Oh please that’s like saying someone stole my grocery store points. wake up! It’s a scam by the airlines

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