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Account audit / blocked / fraud: award / miles / SWU / sale, barter, etc.

Old Jul 29, 2014, 10:15 am
FlyerTalk Forums Expert How-Tos and Guides
Last edit by: Prospero
This thread is dedicated to issues around American Airlines Corporate Security, AAdvantage Fraud division (AKA "Revenue Protection Unit"), and its enforcement of the AAdvantage Terms and Conditions - particularly to selling, buying and bartering awards, miles, upgrades and other instruments - and related issues.

It is okay at this time to gift awards, upgrades, etc. as long as there is absolutely no quid pro quo (no buying or selling or offer to do so, no barter or trade "you give me one now I'll give it back" or anything smacking of prohibited activity. AA is probably the strictest of the US airlines about this. They have a very active and expert AAdvantage Fraud division of the AA Corporate Fraud department, and they can both be aggressive and, some might say merciless - clawing back one's miles and instruments, even closing one's account and terminating status and ability to participate in the AAdvantage program n the future.

There are other ways to commit fraud in AAs eyes, such as fictitious or fraudulent bookings to try to block seats to increase ones chances if upgrades, generating tickets to access airside facilities (e.g. lounges) when there is no intent to fly, etc.

To read an example of how the US Department of Transportation has rules on punitive actions by AA, read Joel Hayes vs. American Airlines here (PDF).

Please read on for information and the consensus of knowledgeable members.

E.g. AAdvantage Terms and Conditions excerpt: "At no time may AAdvantage mileage credit or award tickets be purchased, sold, advertised for sale or bartered (including but not limited to transferring, gifting, or promising mileage credit or award tickets in exchange for support of a certain business, product or charity and/or participation in an auction, sweepstakes, raffle or contest). Any such mileage or tickets are void if transferred for cash or other consideration. Violators (including any passenger who uses a purchased or bartered award ticket) may be liable for damages and litigation costs, including American Airlines attorneys fees incurred in enforcing this rule." (This extends to other AA instruments such as Systemwide Upgrades, etc., selling of extra AirPass seats or baggage allowance, etc.)
Also see AAdvantage Program Terms and Conditions and

American Airlines Conditions of Carriage.

Originally Posted by SS255
<snip>"While you may consider the AAdvantage Miles in your account to be *your* property, they are actually the property of AA, and AA permits you to redeem them within the program rules set by AA. If AA detects any impropriety (real or perceived) in the use of AAdvantage miles, they reserve the right to confiscate the miles and/or close/delete the account."...
The typical email from AA Corporate Security can not be addressed by calling AAdvantage Customer Service or other methods - you must reply to the email address given. It likely will look like this:

My name is Fname Lname, and I am an analyst with American Airlines. One of my responsibilities is investigating possible instances of fraud, misrepresentation, and violations of the General AAdvantage Program Conditions. Today, Im writing you about your AAdvantage account # XXXXXXXX

We have reason to believe that the transactions listed below violate one or more of the AAdvantage program conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, prohibition of purchase, sale, or barter of mileage credit and or award tickets. As a result, American Airlines has suspended your AAdvantage membership privileges and use of AA.com in conjunction with your account and may terminate your account as a result of our findings. We are in the process of completing the investigation into this matter, and I would like to hear the events as they occurred from your perspective. Please respond to this message by <date> with complete and accurate information regarding the activities listed below:

<specific activity /activities in question>

Required Information:
  • Passenger name
    • Origin and destination cities on the travel itinerary
      • Purchaser name (individual, company and/or website), including:
        • Copy of any advertisements to which you responded offering to purchase/broker the use of your AAdvantage miles
          • Purchaser contact information, such as:
            • Mailing address
              • Email address
                • Telephone number
                  • Website profile name
                    • Your statement fully disclosing the details surrounding the sale/barter transaction referenced above
                      • Copy of all communication between yourself and the purchaser
                        • Documentation that you received payment


To protect and retain the integrity of the AAdvantage program, it is vital that firm action be taken as a result of any violation of the AAdvantage Program Conditions, whether intentional or not. Failure to respond completely and accurately by <insert date>, will result in the termination of your AAdvantage membership and all its benefits, including all remaining AAdvantage miles in your account and any award tickets issued from it. Please, understand that our overall motivation is to preserve the benefits of the AAdvantage program, rather than to take punitive action against individuals. To that end, its not unusual for us to release the AAdvantage account suspension once we receive all the detail we request and reconcile it with the results of our investigation. We hope to hear from you soon.

Regards,

Fname Lname, etc.
Excellent summaries of information (based on the sum of experiences we have seen in this thread over time) of how to respond:

Blogger Gary Leff: "If you made that mistake and got caught, American usually will go light on first-time offenders provided that they come clean and are forthcoming about whom a systemwide was sold to or purchased from and what the terms were. They are most interested in serial brokers and are willing to plea bargain with minor offenders to get the Evip-lords. There may be a consequence but it should fall short of account shutdown and forfeiture of miles." Link
Originally Posted by sbrower
I am going to try and provide a summary of the advice. For the record, this is 90% from Jon (JonNYC) and a little bit from other comments and circumstances, I am just trying to provide an easy summary, without all the explanations and reasons. I am happy to have others update/correct.

1. Respond to the questions in the email which you received. Don't try to call or email that person, or anyone else, at AA or DOT or whatever. Just answer the email.

2. Answer every question, in detail, with the facts. Don't use sarcasm or "you should know" or anything else that sounds like to you are avoiding the exact question being asked.

3. Assume that they know more about the true facts than you do. It might not always be true, but in most cases they have way more information than you might assume. So go back to #2, above.

4. If you did ANYTHING that was wrong (not under your interpretation of what you think the rules should be, but based on what the rules actually say) then, if you want to continue to participate in the AAdvantage program, tell them about your error and tell them that you are prepared to pay a correct penalty for your mistake (miles/status/etc) and then go back to #2, above.
From JonNYC, our resident expert on this:

Originally Posted by JonNYC
Perfect and 100%.
<snip>

The analysts that do this for a living have the same reactions that any humans do to being lied to and/or condescended to. Therefore, as well as being 100% truthful, go out of your way NOT to be:

-condescending
-brusque
-sharp, terse and/or sounding like you're being inconvenienced
-insulting
-just generally slippery, aloof, evasive and unforthcoming. As mentioned; they know more than you think they do. Always.

DO be apologetic, contrite and extremely cooperative.

Finally, any version of "...in which case, I'll be emailing [insert name or department here] to tell them how I, a [insert years flying AA, status, MMer, $$ spent, etc] customer is being treated" and/or mention of your lawyer, DOT, Chris Elliot (), this forum, any blogger, etc. DO NOT DO THIS.
Older posts have been archived to the
archived thread.

A number of posts regarding AA's confiscation of 60,000 miles from "Mr. Hayes" for allegedly making "fictitious" bookings in search of whether his upgrade would be likely to progress or not, AA IT issues that might have led to this (or not), AA's replies and the USDOT complaint have been moved to a new thread: Hayes, USDOT and AA: "fictitious bookings" and checking upgrades.

NOTE: Posts about members experiencing account security breaches, fraud, theft of awards and instruments have moved to Account fraud / breach: my account compromised, awards stolen, etc..

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Account audit / blocked / fraud: award / miles / SWU / sale, barter, etc.

Old Apr 20, 2020, 8:05 am
  #916  
Moderator: Information Desk, Women Travelers, FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Programs: AA Gold
Posts: 15,706
Update: False alarm. His account was unlocked this morning. Apparently AA had reason to believe his account was hacked. All miles are intact and being transferred to a new account. Thanks all!
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Old Apr 20, 2020, 8:33 am
  #917  
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Global
Posts: 6,028
Originally Posted by SeeBuyFly
...They did it because your friend had >1 million miles, they knew they would look good reducing AA liabilities, and because they knew that there would be no effective government oversight....
Guess not...

Originally Posted by chgoeditor
Update: False alarm. His account was unlocked this morning. Apparently AA had reason to believe his account was hacked. All miles are intact and being transferred to a new account. Thanks all!
Glad everything worked out!
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Old Apr 20, 2020, 9:37 am
  #918  
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Programs: AA (EP), Hilton (Diamond), Marriott Bonvoy (Titanium)
Posts: 8,938
Originally Posted by chgoeditor
A friend who is likely considered a high-revenue passenger let me know today that his account, which has 1 million+ miles, was locked. He tells me:
  • He never did credit card churning
  • His only award tickets were for family members who share his last name or his husband's last name
  • He has infrequently given SWUs to family or friends
  • He never held reservations to increase the likelihood of upgrades for himself or his family
  • He never had the AA credit card that allowed people to hold reservations indefinitely
  • He did, on occasion, book back-to-back tickets, or threw away the returns on international flights, sometimes involving one segment on a partner airline
I think it might possibly be premature to assume your friend's account was locked for hidden-city (throwing away returns) ticketing. Until your friend receives any communication from AA, I don't think we can know what the issue is. For example, is it possible that your friend's account was hacked and used to issue awards by a broker? Or perhaps your friend did something not mentioned that caught AA's attention?
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Old Apr 20, 2020, 9:38 am
  #919  
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Programs: AA (EP), Hilton (Diamond), Marriott Bonvoy (Titanium)
Posts: 8,938
Originally Posted by chgoeditor
Update: False alarm. His account was unlocked this morning. Apparently AA had reason to believe his account was hacked. All miles are intact and being transferred to a new account. Thanks all!
Sorry for posting my reply before reading this update. Glad to hear it has been resolved (and as I suspected, it was premature to assume it was for hidden-city ticketing).
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Old Apr 20, 2020, 12:32 pm
  #920  
 
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Location: LAX
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Originally Posted by chgoeditor
His only award tickets were for family members who share his last name or his husband's last name
I am happy to hear there was a positive resolution and that AA was proactively looking after a hacked account.

For future reference...

If you give award tickets to family members or friends, you still have to be careful.

Let's say Sister bought tickets from a broker sometime in the past, and let's say the broker has been identified by AA and, thus, the broker's customers are similarly identified. Sister is now on a list of people willing to buy award tickets.

If Brother innocently gives Sister award tickets out of the goodness of his heart, even if they share a last name, Brother might still find himself in trouble. One might surmise that Brother is willing to sell award tickets because Sister is willing to buy them.

It's totally OK to give award tickets to anyone, even if they are not related and don't share a last name. The question you need to ask that person is if they have ever bought tickets from a broker in the past, and you need to have a level of trust they are telling you the truth.
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Old Apr 20, 2020, 2:11 pm
  #921  
Moderator: Information Desk, Women Travelers, FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
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Originally Posted by QueenOfCoach
I am happy to hear there was a positive resolution and that AA was proactively looking after a hacked account.

For future reference...

If you give award tickets to family members or friends, you still have to be careful.

Let's say Sister bought tickets from a broker sometime in the past, and let's say the broker has been identified by AA and, thus, the broker's customers are similarly identified. Sister is now on a list of people willing to buy award tickets.

If Brother innocently gives Sister award tickets out of the goodness of his heart, even if they share a last name, Brother might still find himself in trouble. One might surmise that Brother is willing to sell award tickets because Sister is willing to buy them.

It's totally OK to give award tickets to anyone, even if they are not related and don't share a last name. The question you need to ask that person is if they have ever bought tickets from a broker in the past, and you need to have a level of trust they are telling you the truth.
Good to know! That never would have occurred to me.
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Old Apr 20, 2020, 10:21 pm
  #922  
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
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Posts: 8,938
Originally Posted by QueenOfCoach
Let's say Sister bought tickets from a broker sometime in the past, and let's say the broker has been identified by AA and, thus, the broker's customers are similarly identified. Sister is now on a list of people willing to buy award tickets.

If Brother innocently gives Sister award tickets out of the goodness of his heart, even if they share a last name, Brother might still find himself in trouble. One might surmise that Brother is willing to sell award tickets because Sister is willing to buy them.

It's totally OK to give award tickets to anyone, even if they are not related and don't share a last name. The question you need to ask that person is if they have ever bought tickets from a broker in the past, and you need to have a level of trust they are telling you the truth.
What you say is true, although when AA analysts look at Brother's account, they won't see a pattern of suspicious awards, so it seems unlikely that Brother would wake up to find his account locked and later receive a nasty-gram from AA.
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Old Apr 21, 2020, 12:54 am
  #923  
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Originally Posted by anabolism
What you say is true, although when AA analysts look at Brother's account, they won't see a pattern of suspicious awards, so it seems unlikely that Brother would wake up to find his account locked and later receive a nasty-gram from AA.
Agreed. Booked/upgraded parents, sister, significant other, friends, coworker etc many times and never had an issue. I don't know for sure that a co-worker has never bought or sold something for example, but I've never had problems with AA because I certainly haven't.

Seems overall, save for a rare case or a short term lock like this one, if you don't do anything outside the rules, you don't need to worry. I sleep great!
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Old Apr 21, 2020, 9:20 am
  #924  
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: LAX
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Originally Posted by anabolism
What you say is true, although when AA analysts look at Brother's account, they won't see a pattern of suspicious awards, so it seems unlikely that Brother would wake up to find his account locked and later receive a nasty-gram from AA.
Yes, I agree.

I still think it's good advice to consider one's trust level in the other person before even offering the award ticket, and take a moment to ask if they've ever dealt with a broker. There are a few in my own family that I would never trust with anything belonging to me.

I could tell the sad tale of Jailbird Nephew, but that is for another message board.
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Old Apr 22, 2020, 4:58 pm
  #925  
Moderator: American AAdvantage
 
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Posts relating to the Marriott data breach and subsequent locking and establishing new AAdvabtsge accounts have moved to Marriott Data Breach and Locking, Changing AAdvantage Accounts.

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Old Apr 23, 2020, 1:50 am
  #926  
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Originally Posted by QueenOfCoach
I am happy to hear there was a positive resolution and that AA was proactively looking after a hacked account.

For future reference...

If you give award tickets to family members or friends, you still have to be careful.

Let's say Sister bought tickets from a broker sometime in the past, and let's say the broker has been identified by AA and, thus, the broker's customers are similarly identified. Sister is now on a list of people willing to buy award tickets.

If Brother innocently gives Sister award tickets out of the goodness of his heart, even if they share a last name, Brother might still find himself in trouble. One might surmise that Brother is willing to sell award tickets because Sister is willing to buy them.

It's totally OK to give award tickets to anyone, even if they are not related and don't share a last name. The question you need to ask that person is if they have ever bought tickets from a broker in the past, and you need to have a level of trust they are telling you the truth.
Please evidence of this. Otherwise this is just speculation.
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Old Apr 23, 2020, 12:16 pm
  #927  
 
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Originally Posted by seawolf
Please evidence of this. Otherwise this is just speculation.
It is speculation. My preferred term is "educated guess".

Here's why I say that. I am a database admin. I have no fear of large data sets. I know how to query a db and make it "talk" to me. I know how to flag records. I do this all the time for a large company, not unlike an airline. I have never worked for any airline. I am very good at my job.

I can imagine how they are looking for cheaters, and what I outlined above in my Brother/Sister scenario is my educated guess. It's just a matter of having enough human resources to do it.

I've said this for years. If you've done anything shady, you are toast once a human being gets interested in your account.
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Last edited by QueenOfCoach; Apr 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm
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Old Apr 23, 2020, 2:00 pm
  #928  
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Originally Posted by QueenOfCoach
It is speculation. My preferred term is "educated guess".

Here's why I say that. I am a database admin. I have no fear of large data sets. I know how to query a db and make it "talk" to me. I know how to flag records. I do this all the time for a large company, not unlike an airline. I have never worked for any airline. I am very good at my job.

I can imagine how they are looking for cheaters, and what I outlined above in my Brother/Sister scenario is my educated guess. It's just a matter of having enough human resources to do it.

I've said this for years. If you've done anything shady, you are toast once a human being gets interested in your account.
I completely understand they could do data mine it. Don't know if they are doing that. Possibly.
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Old Apr 23, 2020, 2:07 pm
  #929  
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Originally Posted by seawolf
Please evidence of this. Otherwise this is just speculation.
Theres a real difference between wild speculation and informed speculation, though.

As to gifting awards and upgrades, I have done so very many times with nary a problem. I usually do disclose a little about the gift, the recipient or nature of the trip, though I dont know how that might impact the award.
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Old Apr 23, 2020, 3:43 pm
  #930  
 
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Originally Posted by seawolf
I completely understand they could do data mine it. Don't know if they are doing that. Possibly.
I cannot imagine they are not data-mining.

If they work like I do, they'd go after what I call the "low hanging fruit" first.

By that I mean the multiple-time offenders. Personally, I ignore the one-offs. It's all a matter of what kind of resources you want to throw at the problem and what is the return. Huge return if you neutralize an habitual offender. Peanuts if you ID a one-off.

Going back to the question of giving an award ticket to a family member with the same last name: That is NO GUARANTEE of safety, if that family member with the same last name has been flagged, somewhere. Similarly, you can give an award ticket safely to a non-family member with a different last name if that person has not been flagged, somewhere. I simply suggest you take a few moments to evaluate your level of trust in that other person before getting them an award ticket from your account. Take a moment to ask "Have you ever bought an award ticket from someone?".

Again, my speculation and educated guess. YMMV.
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