For the right price, nearly everything is for sale on the dark web. Illegal hacking services are on offer for everything from credit card fraud to help with cyber-snooping on an ex-spouse, but according to one recent report, hiring a black hat hacker to siphon air miles or hotel rewards points from travelers’ accounts is very much a buyer’s market.
Although it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, hotel and airline loyalty points can be a valuable commodity, especially if those points didn’t require any initial outlay to earn (or in some cases steal). Despite the constant threat of loyalty rewards devaluation, there are still plenty of unethical scammers willing to pay cash to collect points the easy way – by illicitly transferring points from another person’s account.
A recent report from Business Insider using data collected from a 2016 Dell-sponsored Secure Works Under Ground Hacker Markets study, finds that the cost of hiring a black hat hacker for the nefarious purpose of skimming AAdvantage Miles or Hilton Honors Points from a stranger’s account is remarkably reasonably priced. According to the study, hotel points can be obtained for the bargain basement price of $10 for 50,000 points or even as little as $200 for up to a million hotel points – a haul that could amount to quite a few free stays at some extraordinarily luxurious properties. Meanwhile, air miles are only slightly pricier in the dark corners of the worldwide web, with a going rate of around $60 for as many as $200,000 miles or a whopping 1.5 million miles for about $450.
The Secure Works report notes that loyalty point thieves aren’t likely to actually use the purloined points for travel or hotel stays. Instead, the air mile bandits are far more likely to attempt to turn the reward points into fast cash.
“One is probably asking why would a scammer want to purchase someone’s frequent flyer or hotel points account number?” the report contends. “Well, the answer is simple. There are legitimate websites where one can trade their airline and hotel points for gift cards.”
For those still willing to set aside morality and the fear of arrest for cheap travel benefits, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. While hacker syndicates are very good at protecting their own anonymity, for an individual, this sort of heist is very difficult to accomplish without making identity and personal information easily available to both hackers and law enforcement. Perhaps more importantly, the value of a million SkyMiles isn’t what it once was in 2016.
The price tag on hacked air miles has been dropping steadily, primarily, the report points out, due to the laws of supply and demand. It seems, in this case, even as the risks associated with the theft are increasing, the rewards are steadily decreasing thanks in part to constant devaluation.