Cybercriminals Are Funding Their Dream Vacations With Your Rewards Points

woman looking out of window on airplane
Killian Pham/Unsplash

You’ve been smart. You found the perfect credit card with great travel rewards points, and you’ve used it religiously and paid it all off promptly. Those points have added up, and now it’s time for you and your partner to jump on a plane to a sunny beach paradise!

But as you get ready to book, you see that your rewards points balance is zero.

The darknet strikes again!

You have to give cybercriminals a little credit for creativity. They continue to find new revenue streams — and now it’s your travel rewards points.

Hackers Are Selling Your Travel Rewards Points

Hackers who have learned how to steal your credit and debit card information are now selling your rewards points on the darknet, according to a report by cybersecurity firm Flashpoint. Since scammers have your card information, they also have your points information and want to make even more money.

How do they do it? They simply set up fake travel websites that specialize in heavily discounted flights and hotels, and let people go on vacation. Some even offer cruises, tours and rental cars. They create the giant discounts using your stolen points.

Some of these online marketplaces, like Alphabay and Hansa, were taken down in a sting operation by the government last summer. However, the darknet has many little corners and places for cybercriminals to make new homes for their scams.

The sites have been noted in Russian-, Spanish- and English-speaking communities. One Russian site even encouraged customers to take pictures on vacation and send them in so they could post them online.

That nice couple relaxing with mai tais on the beach in Nassau? Yeah, they’re smiling at you because they used your points to get there.

How to Avoid Helping Hackers

So what can an honest Joe do to avoid helping these scams survive?

Start by protecting your credit cards. There are some purchases that are riskier than others. Know which purchases to avoid and which are OK for your card, especially during the holiday season.

When looking to book travel for yourself, only use reputable travel sites. If you aren’t familiar with the site, see if it has a Better Business Bureau rating before booking. Remember, not only could you end up using stolen points to get big discounts, but you could also punch your card numbers into a scam site. Better safe than sorry.

Your points are your rewards. Don’t let someone else take your vacation.

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. He only has enough rewards points for a free bagel. Sorry, hackers. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.

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