A major concerted action to combat online airplane ticket fraud was carried out on 26 and 27 November, by international law enforcement agencies coordinated by Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) in the Hauge, working with, Interpol in Singapore and Ameripol in Bogota, in cooperation with the airline, travel and credit card industries.
The airline industry alone incurs some US$ 1 billion (£630 million) a year losses due to online ticket booking fraud according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The coordinated global airport action covered more than 80 airports, 60 airlines and 45 countries, and targeted criminals suspected of fraudulently purchasing plane tickets online using stolen or fake credit card data. Often the credit card fraud was linked to other forms of serious crime such as drug trafficking and human trafficking. More than 281 suspicious transactions were reported and 118 individuals were arrested during the operation.
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, working in partnership between law enforcement authorities and the industries affected.
IATA provided fraud intelligence from its database with notifications sent to transport hubs across the world as waiting enforcement officers intercepted and detained suspects attempting to travel using fraudulently-obtained flight tickets. A team of dedicated Europol analysts provided live access to centralised criminal intelligence databases and 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.
Europol director Rob Wainwright issued a statement saying: “This operation is another example of law enforcement and the private sector working seamlessly together, to prevent and fight cyber-crime - 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. Europol's EC3 will continue to invest heavily in conducting similar operations and other activities that will make life harder for cyber-criminals”.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, european commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship commented: “This major step, taken on a European and global scale, links all key stakeholders to solve problems within one of the most affected areas of cyber-crime. Our aim is to act in concert to protect our societies and citizens."
The aim of action was both to target the criminal online services offering credit card credentials and fake plane tickets, and also to protect consumers hit by these criminal enterprises. Some of the suspects were repeat offenders and had been arrested in previous police actions at airports. Another result of the operation was the creation of a global alliance of airlines and law enforcement agencies to working together on an ongoing basis to combat online fraud and crime.
Meta Backman from the European Airlines Fraud Prevention Group commented: “Airlines are fighting credit card fraud on their ticket sales on daily basis. It is clear to the airlines that they are up against organised crime in this fight. Airlines are depending on card issuing banks to obtain confirmation of fraudulent use of credit cards. Without confirmation, airlines cannot report the crime to law enforcement. The action day operations have been a good example of the importance of the cooperation of these three types of organisations: airlines, banks and law enforcement.”
Aleks Popovich, senior vice president, financial and distribution services, IATA adds: “Fraudsters are costing the airline industry significant amounts of money, but above all the IATA airline members do not want to transport criminals and thus facilitate their illicit activities.”
Commissioner Juan José Andrade Morales, director of the Costa Rican Police and President of Ameripol says: “This kind of joint action with Europol, Interpol and Ameripol confirms our commitment to fighting cyber-crime and organised crime, and consolidates the strategic alliances between our law enforcement agencies.