Given the heightened security surrounding air travel these days, it may be hard to believe that fraudsters would try to board a plane using stolen tickets. But incredibly, there are a number of criminal travel agencies doing business in the underground, and judging from the positive feedback left by patrons, business appears to be booming.
The tickets often are purchased at the last minute and placed under the criminal buyer’s real name. The reservations are made using either stolen credit cards or hijacked accounts belonging to independent contractors in the travel industry. Customers are charged a fraction of the cost of the tickets and/or reservations, typically between 25 and 35 percent of the actual cost.
Criminal travel services are contributing to a recent spike in airline ticket fraud. In December, the Airlines Reporting Corporation, an industry clearinghouse, said it was seeing a marked increase in unauthorized tickets issued. Between August and November of last year, 113 incidents of fraudulently booked tickets were reported to ARC, up from just 18 such incidents reported in all of 2010. The aggregate face value of the unauthorized tickets in 2011 was more than $1 million. The ARC believes the increase in fraud is mainly due to an surge in phishing emails targeting travel agency employees and contractors.
Some of the travel agencies in the criminal underground are full-service, pitching package deals that include airfare, car rentals and even hotel stays. A hacker using the nickname “Yoshimo” on one prominent fraudster forum offers “80-95 percent working flight tickets in most countries (some restrictions apply),” for 25 percent of the original price, and 40 percent of the price for carded hotel stays and car rentals. He has been offering this service for more than two years, and has at least 275 positive reviews from current and former customers.