118 arrested in action against online fraudsters in the airline sector

On 26 and 27 November, law enforcement agencies from all over the world, in cooperation with the airline, travel and credit card industries, joined forces in a major concerted action to combat online fraud.

The coordinated Global Airport Action targeted criminals suspected of fraudulently purchasing plane tickets online using stolen or fake credit card data. Over 60 airlines and 45 countries were involved in the activity, which took place at over 80 airports across the world. The banking, airline and travel sectors have suffered huge financial losses as a direct result of such Internet-facilitated crime, with the airline industry alone facing losses of USD 1 billion caused by fraudulent online ticket booking.

The aim of action was twofold – to target the criminal online services offering credit card credentials and fake plane tickets, and also to protect consumers from being duped by these criminal enterprises. During the operation more than 281 suspicious transactions were reported and 118 individuals were arrested. Some of the suspects were repeat offenders and had been arrested in previous police actions at airports.

Representatives from the airlines and major credit card companies American Express, MasterCard, Visa Inc and Visa Europe were present at the coordination centre run by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3). They worked together to identify suspicious airline ticket transactions. Using their own financial data systems, credit card company officials confirmed suspicions when alerted by the airlines.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) took part in the action, providing important fraud intelligence from its database. Notifications were sent to transport hubs across the world as waiting enforcement officers intercepted and detained suspects attempting to travel using fraudulently-obtained flight tickets.

Backing them up, a team of dedicated Europol analysts provided live access to centralised criminal intelligence databases. Interpol assisted with the rapid identification of wanted persons and stolen travel documents. Officers from Europol’s EC3 were present in Singapore and Bogota, and at some of the European airports, and a Eurojust official assisted at the coordination centre in The Hague.

Besides the successful operational outcome, another positive result is the creation of our global alliance of airlines and law enforcement agencies, who will be working together on an ongoing basis to combat online fraud and crime.

“This operation is another example of law enforcement and the private sector working seamlessly together, to prevent and fight cybercrime – this time identity theft and credit card fraud. We are reaching new levels with our cooperation and aim to become an ‘unbeatable alliance’ with aspirations to make cyberspace as crime free as possible for global citizens,” commented Europol Director Rob Wainwright. “Europol’s EC3 will continue to invest heavily in conducting similar operations and other activities that will make life harder for cybercriminals”.

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