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How hackers are taking a bite out of your Air India flying-returns

A First Information Report (FIR) has been filed against unknown people after Air India's vigilance department detected a racket using high-tech means to steal frequent-flyer miles.

Ankur Sharma   New Delhi     Last Updated: June 23, 2016  | 13:26 IST
That's how hackers eat your Air India reward points
Photo: Reuters

If you fly frequently with Air India and are unable to redeem miles, it is possible that hackers have taken a bite out of your reward points.

Delhi Police's cyber experts are probing a scam in Air India's flying-returns scheme in which a passenger can earn loyalty points by travelling with the national carrier and later redeem them. The more one flies, the more the returns.

A First Information Report (FIR) has been filed against unknown people after Air India's vigilance department detected a racket using high-tech means to steal frequent-flyer miles.

According to an internal probe, a gang generated 20 email ids and diverted reward points earned by passengers, with possible help from some airline employees. The months-long investigation revealed about 170 tickets were purchased by unfair means using driving licences as proof while many of them had the same signature, said Dhananjay Kumar, a senior manager with the national carrier.

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He said as boarding passes were issued directly in these instances and driving licences are not considered valid proof, the likelihood of insider involvement is strong.

Tickets worth almost Rs 16 lakh have been sold on the basis of the stolen miles, say sources, adding that the probe may have merely scratched the surface as almost 20 lakh passengers are beneficiaries of AI's flyingreturns programme.

The loot was first noticed this month during the verification of "know your customer" documents uploaded by a member.

The passenger submitted a driving licence as identity proof, which is not legitimate, but the account was still approved. "When the cell concerned at the headquarters investigated the User ID which had verified the account, it was found that its user name "KishoreK" did not belong to the programme administration's user group," said the FIR.

According to AI, all user IDs were checked and at least 20 were found to be suspect. The IDs were also hacked to gain unauthorised access to members' accounts.

"On further investigation it was found out that these suspect user IDs had hacked various membership accounts and redeemed miles of genuine Flying Returns members. The details of the number of miles redeemed from each such account as well as the tickets issued along with ticket number, name have been given," Air India said in its complaint.

A senior airline official said that this syndicate has a unique modus operandi and it seems that people well versed with technology are part of it.

"The gang used to divert points earned by various passengers. It seems that some of Air India staff members were also responsible for smooth diversion and also possibly some call centre employees are also involved," said an AI official, adding that gang, with the help of agents, created fake accounts and got tickets on the basis of these points.

"One such passenger was caught red-handed. It is a syndicate between agents, AI staff and hackers. We have done an internal enquiry and for further investigation, we have filed a case with the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police," another senior AI official said.

"We have given details of the total number of miles that have been redeemed as well as the tickets issued along with the ticket numbers. Lakhs of reward points have been redeemed by this gang and the figures may also rise in the future."

According to the police, the carrier has said that these accounts have not been in use since March and also they have deactivated all such suspicious user IDs. "It seems that with the connivance of AI staff and agents, gang duped innocent passengers who earned points by travelling with Air India. We have just registered the case and required time to investigate, soon will call AI officials of particular cell for investigation," a senior police official associated with the EOW said.

(In association with Mail Today Bureau)

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