FBI Portland
Beth Anne Steele
(503) 460-8099
November 20, 2018

Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Airfare Scams

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against airfare scams.

We are just two days away from Turkey day—and only a month away from Christmas—leading us into one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.

Going home to see the family—or maybe even jetting off to an exotic locale to celebrate in style—always seems better when you save money doing it. Today, though, we are warning of a travel scam that we are seeing reported more and more often.

In this fraud, the bad guy uses stolen credit cards to buy plane tickets for flights during peak holiday travel times. Once purchased, he will then cancel the ticket and collect a credit from the airline. With just a few keystrokes, he posts that credit for sale on a popular online sales platform. He gives some excuse as to why he had to cancel his trip—the more heartbreaking the better. He may even include the confirmation number from the original ticket in an attempt to make it look authentic.

You pick up those credits, points, or vouchers at a below-market cost, leading you to think you got a great deal.

Of course, by this time the airline is wise to the fraud and cancels the voucher. When you go to cash in that great deal you bought, the airline tells you that you are out of luck. Bottom line on this one—don’t buy airline tickets or vouchers when you can’t verify the origin.

Another travel scam to watch out for—the promise of free airline tickets if you click on, like, or repost something on social media. No airline is going to run a promotion like that or they would end up out of business. Oftentimes, these are scam artists who are just trying to build up a fan base for a completely different product or they are hoping to catch you in a phishing scam. You click on the wrong link and you can end up with malware on your device, leading to many months of fraudulent activity on your accounts.

To avoid this scam, make sure you follow your favorite airlines on their verified social media accounts. You will be able to find any legitimate special deals they may make available on those accounts.

Finally, a warning about false bookings. Much of the time, Americans are pretty adept at making their own reservations and travel arrangements. But, if you are planning a really big or complex trip—especially an expensive one—a travel agent may make sense. In some cases, though, people are finding that their plane tickets or hotel reservations don’t exist after paying disreputable agents thousands of dollars. Do your homework and confirm that your agent is legitimate with a long history of good service.

If you have been victimized by one of these scams or any other online scam, contact the FBI immediately. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.