An international law enforcement operation targeting airline fraudsters has resulted in the arrest of 195 individuals, according to Europol.
Those arrested are suspected of traveling with airline tickets bought using stolen, compromised or fake credit card details.
Between 16 and 20 October 2017, 61 countries – including the UK, 63 airlines and 6 online travel agencies were involved in the 10th Global Airport Action Days (GAAD) which took place at over 226 airports around the world.
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During the week-long operation, 298 suspicious transactions were reported and 195 people were detained, denied boarding, questioned by police and charged criminally.
Europol said investigations are ongoing, and that several people were caught trying to traffic drugs from Latin America to Europe, frequently flying back and forth using fraudulently purchased tickets.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that the airline industry loses over $1bn a year as a result of the fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets.
Fraudulent online transactions are highly lucrative for organised crime and are often purchased to facilitate more serious criminal activities including illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling and terrorism, said Europol.
This latest GAAD included a number of new airline partners, with six new major airline carriers joining the initiative, including four from the Asia Pacific, three from Africa, and two from the Middle East.
The GAAD was organised through coordination centres at Europol in The Hague, the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore and Ameripol in Bogota. The operation was supported by Canadian as well as US law enforcement authorities.
Eurojust assisted throughout the action week, together with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) which deployed officers to 20 airports, assisting in the detection of identity fraud, fake documents and irregular migration.
The Airport Communication Project (AIRCOP), implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), also took part in law enforcement activities at airports in Africa and the Middle East.
Representatives from airlines, online travel agencies, payment card companies, the Perseuss fraud intelligence sharing plaform, and IATA worked with experts from Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to identify suspicious transactions and provide confirmation to law enforcement officers deployed in the airports.
Europol’s executive director, Rob Wainwright said: “Airline ticket fraud poses a range of security issues, and we cannot allow anyone, in particular serious criminals and terrorists, to travel around the world anonymously and to endanger others. This is why Europol, together with its private partners, needs to further extend these global initiatives, allowing for police and the private sector to share information about suspicious online activities to make life as hard as possible for criminals.”
The director for organised and emerging crime at Interpol’s General Secretariat headquarters, Paul Stanfield, said: “Fraudulent online transactions are highly profitable for organised crime, and are often tied to other activities which include cyber crime, illegal immigration, human trafficking and terrorism.
“Global Airport Action Days is therefore an important cross-sector collaborative operation against the transnational organised criminal networks behind fraudulent airline ticket purchases and other criminal activities,” he said.
GAAD is a horizontal and multidisciplinary operation to fight fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets with compromised credit card data, said Europol.
According to the European law enforcement organisation, the public-private partnership concept agreed for this action is the most efficient way of combating online fraud and other serious forms of organised crime, facilitated by ticket fraud, such as illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug trafficking and others.
Crime as a service is a recent trend in all forms of serious organised crime, and has now also appeared in the travel sector, according to Europol.
Law enforcement has targeted fake online travel agencies, specialising in purchasing airline tickets with stolen or fake credit card details for other criminals, providing them a service, Europol said.