Flights… hotels… rental cars… even entire trips-- all for sale. Not by regular travel agents, but by criminals setting up shop selling stolen rewards points.
Intelligence Analyst for Flashpoint, Liv Rowley, explains it: “So, in the deep and dark web there are these travel agencies, and they’re run by these vendors who advertise that they can get you pretty much anything that you would need for vacations to anywhere in the world,” and usually at a major discount.
Rowley, who spends her day monitoring the dark web for fraud, says criminals use various software tools to nab your points. “And, it’s really important to see in the deep and dark web that this is, it’s not one person who’s doing it all. It’s oftentimes groups of people that work together to accomplish fraud,” she says.
Rowley says a scammer will steal, say, your flight miles and sell them to a criminal travel agent who with take other stolen points for say, a hotel, and pool them together. It’s so brazen, there are even ratings systems.
Points specialist Emily McNutt, Associate Editor at The Points Guy, says, “It’s unfortunate but it’s not all that shocking given the high value of the points and miles,” especially given the fact that people often don’t know their miles are stolen until sometimes months after they’re gone.
McNutt says that’s one reason the bad booking agents are able to set up shop. “People know how to keep their bank accounts secure, they know how to check on their balances and make sure everything is up to date. However, unfortunately in the points and miles world, we don’t always see that.”
Tips to protect yourself: What Rowley calls ‘strong password hygiene” including different passwords for various accounts.
And, McNutt says, make sure you sign up for alerts, so that if your points are redeemed, you are the first to know.
And, in the end, “Consumers should look at points and miles as money,” according to McNutt.
While points programs aren’t required to offer the same protection as credit cards, McNutt says many will stand by their customers. She says if your points are stolen, call the provider as soon as possible to see what the company may be able to do to credit the points back to your account.