Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few travelers fall victim to a scam purporting to be a ticket agent recently. We wanted to remind travelers what to look out for.
Airline ticket scams are not new, yet they continue to be on the rise. There have been numerous cases of airline ticket fraud even from the most legitimate sources. Also, with the possibility of easily creating a social media account, it is possible to become anyone online. Scammers can now take up the identity of a travel agency or even an airline.
Though scams are widely prevalent with online bookings, you could also get scammed from a travel agency which has a well established and functional office.
How does airline ticket fraud work?
- Criminals use stolen, compromised or hacked credit card details to buy airline tickets
- The criminals offer these tickets for sale at bargain prices via professional-looking websites or social networking accounts which appear to be for legitimate travel agencies or agents
- The criminal ‘travel agents’ ask for immediate payment, typically by cash, bank transfer or virtual currencies
- After receiving your payment, the criminal sends you the flight booking confirmation – with their original purchase details deleted
Warning signs a ticket ‘sale’ could be fraud:
There are some red flags to look out for when you see a flight to your dream destination advertised for an extremely low price:
Is the ticket price significantly cheaper than anywhere else? – Since they make 100 per cent profit, criminals will offer bargain prices to entice you to take their ‘deal’.
Important: Don’t trust individuals who contact you by private messenger like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
Is the departure date in the next few days? – Criminals will offer fraudulently purchased tickets only one or two days before the flight (or even the same day), before the real credit card owner notices the fraud and cancels the ticket.
You are requested to pay in cash, via bank transfer, such as with MoneyWise or Western Union, or even virtual currencies like Bitcoins.
These payment methods are difficult to trace and are not refundable (remember: criminals need to monetise the stolen card details of other victims and you could be part of this plan).
Scammers usually refuse credit card payment because these can be tracked. If you are dealing with an agent and they refuse card payment, its better to step back.
Does the travel agency’s website/social media account provide a full range of contact details, including a physical address and landline telephone number? – If not, do some research to confirm it is a legitimate, certified travel agency before purchase.
Tips for making safe purchases:
- Book airline tickets directly from a reputable travel agency
- Only buy tickets online from websites with secure payment systems (e.g. https at the beginning of the web address).
- Do NOT pay tickets by sending money by WesternUnion, MoneyGram, or other money senders!
- Research the travel agency you intend to buy from. Do they have a legitimate website? Do they have positive or negative online reviews? Is there a way to contact them in case of issues?
- Check the Terms and Conditions before making a purchase, in particular the refund policy and processes
- Look for the logo of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the company’s website.
- Don’t reply to unsolicited emails, texts, instant messaging, social media or calls with holiday offers.
Pay for your tickets by credit card if you can. This will offer increased protection over other payments methods, such as debit card, cash, or money transfer services.
If you choose to buy tickets from an individual, never transfer the money directly into their bank account, but use a secure payment site such as PayPal.
Ensure you have a valid flight ticket with a ticket number and booking reference (PNR) which can be confirmed with the airline before the travel date.
There have been cases where travel agents hand over ticket reservations instead of valid tickets to ignorant passengers who get embarrassed at the airport.
Ensure to have a valid proof of payment (receipt) which includes a company logo, Stamp and Authorized signature.
If you are dealing with a travel agency, if you can, its better to buy your ticket in advance. Why? This is because tickets can be voided/cancelled within 24 hrs of being issued. Dubious travel agents can cancel the ticket within this time after they know you have safely boarded the flight.
Don’t trust individuals who text you by private messenger like WhatsApp or Facebook Messe
As the Internet makes it possible for more businesses to act as third party travel tickets agents, it’s important to be as vigilant as ever. Online services providing illegal fares are on the rise, and it’s easy to accidentally be sold a cheaper, illegally-acquired fare from a scam company.
Moreover, law enforcement activities are playing a constant game of cat and mouse with fraudsters, who are increasingly good at exploiting the latest phishing and scamming techniques.
These will then help fund larger criminal activities, some of which have very grave consequences. But hopefully implementing the right filtering and prevention tool can make a dent in their funding – and help the good guys win.