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Tickets to Nowhere Every year in this country, nearly $60 million worth of stolen, counterfeit and fraudulent airline tickets change hands. Profits are so high in this business that travel agents have been burglarized, held up at gun point and even murdered for their blank-ticket stock and validation plates.

These bogus tickets are then sold to travelers by scam artists posing as legitimate passengers, travel agents or airline employees. But even though stolen tickets may have all the right markings, they are still “hot.” “The minute an agent is robbed or has ticket stock stolen, it’s reported — not only to the police, but to the Airlines Reporting Corporation,” explains Ada Brown of the American Society of Travel Agents. “Those tickets are immediately input into the system at all airlines. If the airline doesn’t stop it, it’s because they simply didn’t check the ticket numbers.”

Thieves may delay report of the theft by purchasing a ticket from a legitimate source using a stolen credit-card number. They may even launder that ticket by exchanging it for a ticket on a different flight. Even so, that ticket is tagged, and the computer system will eventually catch up with it.

Sometimes, agents themselves try to defraud the airlines by selling tickets and not forwarding the money to the carriers. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles recently indicted six agents and agency employees for allegedly using another agent’s ticket stock and computer to issue more than $1 million worth of tickets for which the airlines were never paid.

Some phony agents don’t even bother with stolen tickets. They simply run an ad in the newspaper promising huge discounts on air fares. They collect the money and promise the traveler that the tickets will be delivered in a couple of weeks or will be waiting for them at the airport. And that’s the last the victims see of the agent or their money.

Some people don’t care where the ticket came from — as long as they get on the plane. But it’s not that easy to board a flight with a lost, stolen or forged ticket. All the ticket agent has to do is run a computer check on the ticket number. If it’s stolen, it will show up immediately. At that point, things get ugly — and expensive. “The least thing that’s probably going to happen is that you’re going to be terribly embarrassed,” says Ada Brown. “You’re going to have that ticket taken away from you. Security is going to be called. And then, if you want to continue your trip, you not only lose the amount you paid for that ticket, you have to buy a new ticket, full fare.”

Think about that before you buy discount airline tickets from an unknown source. Airlines must be paid the face value of each ticket. If someone offers to sell you $1,000 worth of tickets for $400, it’s almost certainly a fraud, and you could be left standing at the airport — holding the bag.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to David Horowitz in the Consumer Forum+ (go FIGHTBACK).


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