More than 150 people have been arrested in an international crackdown on airline fraudsters suspected of buying flight tickets using stolen, compromised or fake credit card details.
Backed by Europol and Interpol, 64 countries, 84 airlines and eight online travel agencies participated in the sixth Global Airport Action Days (GAAD), which saw investigators take action in 230 airports across the globe.
The operation, which took place between 6 and 8 June, resulted in the identification of 312 suspicious transactions, leading to the arrest of 153 suspects, some of whom were found to be smuggling heroin from Latin America to Africa and Europe while travelling on fraudulently-purchased tickets.
Several investigations are ongoing as a result of the operation, Europol said.
The action days helped police identify new tactics used by organised criminal gangs to gain access to transit areas in airports in order to facilitate illegal immigration and drug trafficking, Europol said in a statement.
Rob Wainwright, Europol’s Executive Director, commented: “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.”
Online flight ticket fraud is thought to cost the airline industry around €892 million annually, it is estimated. Airline tickets purchased fraudulently are often used to facilitate far more serious crimes, including drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal immigration.
According to Europol, fake travel agencies providing Crime-as-a-Service offerings to other criminals are buying up flights using fake or stolen credit card details before selling them on.
Police around the world are working closely with travel firms to tackle this emerging trend, leading to closer cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector, Europol said.
Meta Backman, Chair of the European Airline Fraud Prevention Group, commented: “Airlines cancel fraudulent flight bookings on a daily basis, but there is little else they can do about this criminal activity.
“It is through these operations that we can pass the information on to law enforcement and see the criminals arrested and charged. The airline industry wishes to thank Europol’s EC3 for yet another successful operation.”
As well as Interpol and Europol, the operation was supported by a range of other agencies, including Frontex – Europe’s border control agency – UNODC (AIRCOP for Africa), and Canadian and US law enforcement organisations.
Travel agencies and credit card issuers supported the operation by providing information about suspicious transactions.
Interpol said travellers should take care when purchasing airline tickets online, and to beware of deals that appear too good to be true.
Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock commented: “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.”