Milad Avazdavani, a young Miami computer programmer, was living the life, booking stays from Denver to Dubai and renting luxury cars while there. He did all of this using frequent flier miles from American Airlines. However, all of that was finessed. Avazdavani, a former student of Florida International University, has been sitting in jail for a year, accused of “hacking into the AAdvantage accounts of high-mileage customers and siphoning off enough points to charge trips and cars worth more than $260,000,” according to the Miami Herald.
Avazdavani isn’t your everyday criminal. The Herald reports:
A gifted math and science student, he grew up in Isfahan, Iran’s second-largest city. At age 19, he moved to Tampa to attend the University of South Florida, where he graduated with a degree in biology. He worked briefly as a research technician in the school’s department of cell biology, microbiology and molecular biology.
Afterward, he worked as a scientist at Doosan Hydro, a global tech company based in Tampa that specializes in water and waste technology. Reached by phone, a Doosan Hydro human resources worker acknowledged he worked there, but refused to give details.
Avazdavani was arrested in Tampa on marijuana possession charges and put on probation in 2014 but otherwise had no criminal record. That same year, he moved to South Florida and enrolled at FIU to study biomedical engineering.
“It was a third party, that’s all I can say,” Avazdavani said, cuffed and seated in a wheelchair because of a bad back. “There are other names, other suspects.”
In American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, customers gather miles every time they book a flight, shop with partner businesses or use sponsored credit cards. Those miles gathered can be used towards flights, hotels and other amenities. Avazdani was was take down due to American’s security protocols. Customers receive automatic notifications if the email address on their account has been changed (a common move for scammers to siphon miles). One suspicious customer alerted the airline of the change.
The pattern of hotel bookings and car rentals repeated itself. All of the fraudulent transactions were made under the name “Milad Avaz” and were made from the same computer IP address. At least six American Airlines customers were swindled. According to the Herald:
Avazdavani could not always redeem the hotel bookings — twice, stays at the luxury Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai were canceled by American because of suspected fraud. But he did get the cars, five of them in all, according to police, and there is video surveillance of him renting one in Tampa. He crashed one Camaro in Manatee County, according to police reports.
Avazdavani doesn’t deny using the rental cars but says any disputes with the rental car companies are “civil, not criminal.”
“My name was on the reservation. All I had to do was go there and give my name and rent the car,” Avazdavani said. “Every single one of them was returned. My personal credit card was on file, for incidentals … all I knew I had the reservation booked for me.”
American turned the investigation over to detectives at Miami-Dade’s airport district. By tracking one rented BMW Z4, Detective Steven Kaufman found Avazdavani in a West Miami-Dade home where he was renting a room in early 2015.
When the homeowner let Kaufman in, according to a police report, Avazdavani locked himself in his room briefly, blurting out that the cops had “no grounds to secure a search warrant so there is no way to get into my room.” Despite the fluency he exhibited, he also added, “I do not speak English,” according to the report.
Inside the room, detectives found a slew of credit cards in other people’s name, as well as 150 grams of marijuana. According to Kaufman’s report, Avazdavani eventually copped to the fraud — but warned there was a “time limit” on his interview with the detective.
“Because when he bonds out he would disappear, take on another identity and would never be seen again,” Kaufman wrote.
Avazdavani faces 19 felony charges, including fraudulent use of someone’s identity, grand theft, organized scheme to defraud and computer offenses. He claims that he is “being held hostage” in jail, where he has already been whooped by another inmate. As a Ashkenazi Jew, Avazdavani claims that if he is deported to a Muslim nation, he will be persecuted.
All of the American Airlines customers affected have had their stolen miles reinstated.