A Florida man was arrested and charged for grand theft after he got caught emptying other peoples AAdvantage accounts and using the miles for flights, rental cars and hotel reservations.
Reports value the stolen miles at 260,000$ though I highly doubt that is a realistic number.
Sometimes fraud cases can be very straight forward and using frequent flier miles represents an easy target for con artists who obtain their victims access details to the respective account such as in this case and subsequently pilfer the miles/points.
A while ago John wrote about Hotel Loyalty Accounts being sold in online ‘Fraud Forums’ for very little (access the article here).
The suspect in this case has been charged with a good amount of felonies and also seems a bit of a weird personality judging by the newspaper article of the Miami Herald (see here).
A young Miami computer programmer named Milad Avazdavani booked stays from Denver to Dubai, along with a string of fancy car rentals — all using frequent flier miles from American Airlines.
The former Florida International University student now stands accused of hacking into the AAdvantage accounts of high-mileage customers and siphoning off enough points to charge trips and cars worth more than $260,000.
When confronted, police say he confessed with braggadocio. But Avazdavani, who has been jailed for a year awaiting trial, says he has admitted to nothing, insisting he is not stupid enough to use stolen miles to book trips in his own name.
Yes, he took some trips and rented some cars, Avazdavani said, speaking publicly for the first time in an interview in jail last week. But he swore he was only guilty of “bargain shopping” for travel deals on the internet. He refused to pinpoint who is to blame, cryptically adding “you become a victim when you socialize with the wrong crowd.”
“It was a third party, that’s all I can say,” Avazdavani said.
While it is certainly possible that some unassuming individual could be caught up in a scam like buying stuff on Ebay and someone used fraudulently obtained miles for this transaction I think if there is a clear pattern of one person frequently engaging in such transactions paints a clear picture that something isn’t right.
The criminal probe began with a Texas-based American Airlines investigator named Linda Harper, who in early 2015 began noticing a pattern of suspicious mile-redemption transactions all leading to Miami.
In one case, a Southern California man named Eric Michaelson had 275,000 miles pilfered. Somebody changed his e-mail, then used his account to buy four plane tickets to Denver, book stays at a Fort Lauderdale Embassy Suites and the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, and to rent a Chevy Tahoe. …
The unauthorized transactions were all made in the name, “Milad Avaz.” The pattern — changed customer e-mails, stays at local hotels and rental cars — repeated itself, from the same computer IP address, according to a police report. At least six customers had miles stolen.
“None of the customers impacted lost miles,” said Feinstein, the AA spokesman. “They were reinstated.”
Avazdavani doesn’t deny using the rental cars but says any disputes with the rental car companies are “civil, not criminal.”
“My name was on the reservation. All I had to do was go there and give my name and rent the car,” Avazdavani said. “Every single one of them was returned. My personal credit card was on file, for incidentals … all I knew I had the reservation booked for me.”
Inside the room, detectives found a slew of credit cards in other people’s name, as well as 150 grams of marijuana. According to Kaufman’s report, Avazdavani eventually copped to the fraud — but warned there was a “time limit” on his interview with the detective.
“Because when he bonds out he would disappear, take on another identity and would never be seen again,” Kaufman wrote.
Adding names to reservations made with hotel points is a common thing, with rental cars you can add a second driver but the main renter has to pick up the car (usually). As far as flights are concerned you obviously have to book it in the passengers name even though there are exceptions in countries that don’t check ID for security and boarding on domestic flights so theoretically you could fly under a false name.
It’s good that American reinstated the miles of the cheated customers. There is no mention in this article how many miles were actually stoles but I seriously doubt the reach a value of 260,000$. I value 100k American Airlines miles about 1,300$ so 1.3 cent per mile. It’s likely they used some inflated value to make it look larger than it really is.
If you frequently defraud the same company and a pattern can be established it’s just a matter of time until you get caught. It must seem all too easy when you’re in a frenzy of booking things for free since someone else is paying for it and then the perpetrator loses eye for the detail.
Hopefully some more details will be coming out. I’d be interested how he obtained all the account information.