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13 June 2017

153 detained for ticket fraud following worldwide law enforcement operation

An international operation targeting airline fraudsters has resulted in the detention of 153 individuals suspected of using tickets purchased with stolen, compromised or fake credit card details.

Involving 64 countries, during the sixth Global Airport Action Days from 6 to 8 June, 84 airlines and eight online travel agencies worked with law enforcement officers to carry out operational actions in 230 airports across the world.

A total of 312 suspicious transactions were reported which led to 153 people being detained, denied boarding, questioned by police and charged. A number of investigations are ongoing.

New modi operandi were also identified with organized crime networks attempting to gain access to transit areas in airports in order to facilitate illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Representatives from airlines, online travel agencies, payment card companies, Perseuss – the global travel industry’s fraud review platform – and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), provided additional information on suspicious transactions during the operation.

INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “This type of fraud poses significant security risks by potentially enabling criminals and terrorists to travel anonymously. INTERPOL will continue to support these types of global operations, which also show the value of cooperation between the public and private sectors.”

“Airline ticket fraud is borderless by nature. Effective international public-private cooperation and mutual assistance within the law enforcement environment make a distinctive contribution to our fight against this type of crime. Europol is fully committed to playing a leading part in this work through its unique capabilities,” said Rob Wainwright, Europol’s Executive Director.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, deployed 27 officers to 18 airports to support this operation, assisting with detecting identity fraud, fake documents and illegal immigration. Eurojust also assisted throughout the action days.

Aleks Popovich, IATA’s Senior Vice President, Financial and Distribution Services, said: "Fraud against the airline industry remains a serious issue and IATA will continue to be at the forefront of efforts through its Industry Fraud Prevention strategy and programme of activities. Global Days of Action tackling ticket fraud have become an extremely important part of these efforts.”

The operation was coordinated from operational centres at Europol in the Netherlands, the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, and Ameripol in Bogota. It was also supported by UNODC (AIRCOP for Africa), Canadian and US law enforcement agencies.

Airline ticket fraud

It is estimated that the fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets result in losses to the airline industry of up to USD 1 billion per year. These online transactions are highly lucrative for organized crime and often facilitate more serious criminal activities including illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling and terrorism.

Crime-as-a-Service - a recent trend in all forms of serious organized crime - has now appeared in the travel sector. Law enforcement has targeted fake online travel agencies, which specialize in purchasing airline tickets with stolen or fake credit card details for other criminals, providing them with a service.

For example, one criminal enterprise offered financial services, fraudulently purchased tickets and fake documents. During the action, several bookings for different destinations were linked to the same criminal organization.

Passengers should take care when purchasing airline tickets online and be suspicious about deals which are too good to be true.