Are Thieves Really After Your Credit Card Points?

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Just when you thought you had heard it all, there's a new scam to be aware of. As of late 2013 through today, crooks have been on the hunt for not just your money and your identity – but your credit card rewards as well.

Yes, you read that right; the same complicated hacking and scamming techniques crooks use to steal your identity can be applied to nearly any type of data that can be found online – including accrued cash back and even airline miles or hotel points.

Bloomberg News first reported on this topic in August of 2013. According to the news brief, US Airways, which merged with American Airlines in 2015, notified members that airline miles had been stolen from at least 7,700 compromised accounts.

Then, several similar stories came out in years to follow, starting with a United and American Airlines breach that led to as many as 10,000 loyalty members losing some of their airline miles for a short time. As if actively trying to sink to a new low, crooks in this case used the miles for seat upgrades and free trips for themselves.

Also, hackers hit those with Hilton HHonors accounts as well in 2014, charging up Hilton-affiliated credit cards and stealing hotel points for their own use.

How to Protect Yourself from Rewards Theft

While losing points and miles is saddening, the real issue with this type of theft actually lies below the surface. While loyalty companies keep tabs on your accrued points and miles, they also offer insights into your identity, including your address, credit card numbers, and even extremely personal information like your social security number.

If crooks can get close enough to your airline miles to steal them, they are surely close enough to snag your identity and personal details as well.

To protect your loyalty accounts, you should take steps similar to those you take to protect your identity. Here are some general tips from the Federal Trade Commission on protecting your identity:

  • Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home. "Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home," writes the FTC.
  • Limit the number of credit cards and amount of personal information you carry. "When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need," they write. "Leave your Social Security card at home."
  • Don't offer your personal information willingly, or to anyone who asks. Before you share private details or credit information with a business, make sure you know why they need it and how they plan to use it.
  • Shred paperwork that has your personal information listed once you no longer need it. That includes paperwork that includes details on your loyalty accounts or credit card accounts.
  • Watch over incoming and outgoing mail carefully. "Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office," writes the FTC. "Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox."

While these tips can help keep your identity safe, some specific acts can help keep your loyalty accounts out of the hands of thieves as well. Here are a few additional tips that can keep your credit card rewards out of reach:

  • Know your loyalty account balances. If you hope to spot a change in your loyalty account balance, it helps to know what your balance was to begin with. Keeping a close eye on all of your loyalty accounts is the best way to notice a change right away.
  • Don't share your loyalty numbers or information with anyone. Keep your loyalty account information and paperwork locked up with the rest of your financial information.
  • Report changes in your loyalty balances to your card issuer immediately. If you notice a change to one of your loyalty accounts, make sure to report it to your card issuer immediately. Once you report it, they can start an investigation and – hopefully – refund your lost balance.
  • Keep your eye out for email scams. While emails scams are made differently, the goal of each is to trick you into sharing your personal information. Make sure to avoid logging into a fraudulent website or failing victim to a phishing scam. If an email seems sketcky, don't open it and call your card issuer right away.
  • Keep secure passwords and change them frequently. Just like you would with your bank account, it's crucial to come up with clever passwords that most people would never guess.

The Bottom Line

If you have been wondering whether thieves can steal your credit card points, the answer is a resounding "yes." Not only can they steal your points, but they are actively trying to get your personal details around the clock. If you want to avoid losing your valuable rewards, make sure to protect your loyalty accounts in the same way you do your bank account.

Never trust anyone with your private details, and ask plenty of questions. And if something seems fishy or too good to be true, it probably is.

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