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Summer travel scam targets your points and miles

Jen A. Miller | July 10, 2015
Ah summer: the time for cookouts and fireworks and long days at the beach trying not to check your email. It's also a time to finally use all those airline miles and hotel points you've accumulated to get a free place to stay and free transportation to get there.

"There's a lot of targeted emails and texts that are going out right now that are coupons or travel-based," says Jerry Irvine of the National Cyber Security Task Force and CIO of Prescient Solutions. When receivers of those messages click on links, they're sent to what looks like legitimate hotel or airline or travel websites. 

But they're not legit. If a user lands on one of those websites and starts answering what look like standard questions, "they can at that point in time gather user IDs and passwords or take information," Irvine says. 

He adds that some faux sites are even selling rooms that don't exist or they're selling rooms that they don't have the privilege to sell. "Websites are showing pictures of facilities that are no longer available or just not even around," he says. "They're taking money and then when people get there, there's no reservation for it." 

Scammers can also take a consumer's credit card information and steal his or her identity or sell that information to someone who will. They can also grab a username and password and test them across other sites. If that consumer uses the same username and password across multiple sites, the hacker has unlocked that person's financial world. 

Pay up

It's costing companies money to reimburse customers their points and miles especially after rooms or airline tickets have already been paid for and used by the stolen chits. But the bigger price to pay comes from the damage to the company's reputation. 

"It's a much bigger branding problem than it is an economic problem," says Peterson. While a customer's points can be reinstated after a breach, that may not be enough to have them wondering if their information is really safe with a company that's been hacked. 

The good news, Peterson says, is that while another new travel scam could pop in July or August, there is no major event like the Olympics that would get the hackers cracking their knuckles and leaning into their keyboards. But he wouldn't put a new online hoax past them, especially since the points and miles scam is "another example of if there's money to be made over time, criminals will innovate.'"


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