Six men were charged with “stealing millions of airline frequent flier miles” in the Northern District of Texas. While the Department of Justice doesn’t say this, the court in which charges are being brought includes Dallas and almost certainly means they’re prosecuting a theft of American AAdvantage miles. It seems unlikely that this involves Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
The lead defendant was arrested in Poland in May and extradited, arriving in FBI custody on Friday after weekend travel from Warsaw to Dallas. I’ve been involved in several criminal trials involving miles and points as an expert witness. This is the first one I’m aware of that involved an international arrest and extradition.
The claim is that the main defendant obtained fraudulent access to frequent flyer accounts. Then a group of others sold travel, that he’d then book with miles.
According to the indictment, Mr. Borkowski allegedly hacked into consumers’ airline miles accounts, then used the compromised accounts to book flights for unsuspecting passengers who’d purchased travel through Mr. Oliver, Mr. Lee, Mr. Booker, Mr. Siddique, and Mr. Benton.
The U.S.-based passengers would send their requested itinerary and personal information, including names and dates of birth, to one of the five men, who would then send that information, along with a money order, to Mr. Borkowski. Mr. Borkowski would then book the passenger’s flight with fraudulently obtained miles and send the [PNR]back to the men, who would transmit it to the passengers to generate a boarding pass.
At the same time, the allegation that “[t]he conspiracy involved the loss of millions of earned airline miles” fails to provide context for the value at issue. While the charges could lead to 20 years in prison, “millions” could mean just two million, worth perhaps $28,000.
One thing that bothers me about the case is that the men are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They stole miles from people’s accounts. If that isn’t clearly a crime, make it one. The tendency to shoehorn conduct into broad statutes is troubling because it means it’s hard to know ex ante when you’re committing a crime and when you aren’t. In this case of course I’m not so concerned, if the conduct is as it’s described.
And since the Justice Department reports that the actions took place “in August 2019” it seems reasonable to me to belief that they’re only prosecuting a subset of the mileage thefts at issue.
Update: Wojciech Borkowski, formerly of FlightFox and a member of the frequent flyer community who has spoken at several events, would like you to know that he’s not that Wojciech Borkowski.