I’ve been hearing a lot of stories about points and miles fraud. It’s a growing concern for rewards members and travel professionals alike. After all, no one wants to find out they’ve lost thousands of dollars worth of frequent flyer miles halfway through a vacation, and no hotel or airline wants to tell their customers that their hard-earned rewards have been compromised due to poor security. But with the proper precautions, you can keep your account safe from even the most dedicated hackers. Here are a few of my go-to tips to protect points and miles from fraud.
Build a better password
It can be tempting to choose a plain and straightforward password and use the same one for multiple websites – including email, social media and travel sites – simply because it’s more convenient. But the more simple the password, the easier it is to hack. Instead, it’s better to add in a few extra steps and build more complex passwords unique to each of your online accounts. Pick a favorite saying or phrase rather than just a single word – passwords are stronger when they’re made up of multiple words that are strung together.
Add numbers and special characters to make the password all that much more secure. Don’t worry if you think your password is too complex, as you can always use a password manager like KeePass to store and organize all of your passwords in one place.
Check your loyalty accounts
Today, most major airlines prefer to send out electronic updates instead of monthly account statements. These updates can be easily overlooked if you’re not paying attention – a lot of hackers get away with thousands of points and miles because users aren’t keeping an eye on their loyalty accounts. In fact, you might be losing free flights and hotel bookings to criminal activity simply because you haven’t looked at your account in a while. Similar to checking your bank statement, at least once a month, take an extra few minutes out of your day to look through your updates and ensure that there are no unauthorized withdrawals.
If you see any unfamiliar activity, immediately contact your provider. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.
Look for red flags when you log in
If your login information isn’t working, it might be a red flag that someone has hacked into your account and changed your password. A malfunctioning login is a common indicator that someone else is using your account. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t access your account even though you’re positive that you’ve entered the right username and password, call your provider right away and make sure they know that you’ve been hacked. Most loyalty providers will restore all of your points and miles following a theft.
Be wary of phishers
Phishing is a scam where criminals try to get your information by sending fake emails. Phishing emails are popular with hackers because of how convincing they can be – reward members are often targeted because their accounts hold valuable information like credit card and passport numbers. These emails will generally ask you to download something, or change or update your personal account.
A great way to guard against phishers is to organize and track all of your loyalty programs. That way, you’ll know whether or not an email is fake from the get-go. Another way to vet an email is to look for fake links. Hover your mouse over the links in your emails to see where they actually send you. If the link doesn’t match what’s in the text, then the message is probably fake. Finally, you can always call your rewards program to verify the origin of a suspicious email.
Protect yourself from identity theft
Believe it or not, you can earn points and miles by taking the first step to protecting your identity. A growing number of airlines and hotel chains are encouraging their members to join an identity protection service by offering bonus points and miles as an incentive. One example is AAdvantage, which rewards their members with up to 7,000 bonus miles for signing up with LifeLock, an identity protection service. Likewise, Hilton’s HHonors members who sign up for LifeLock will not only receive up to 12,000 HHonors points, but they’ll also get 10 percent off and their first 30 days of protection for free.
As loyalty programs continue to improve their security measures, it’s important to remember that you – the traveler – are the last line of defense. And because points and miles are as valuable as cash, you’ll want to take a few simple precautions to ensure that your account is always protected.