79 arrested in worldwide crackdown on airline fraud

27 November 2019
Press Release
Press Release/News

Between 18 – 22 November 2019, 60 countries, 56 airlines and 12 online travel agencies were involved in the 12th edition of the Global Airline Action Days (GAAD), an international and multidisciplinary operation to fight fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets with compromised credit card data, which took place at more than 200 airports across the world.

During this international law enforcement operation, targeting airline fraudsters, 165 suspicious transactions were reported. Investigations have been opened and 79 individuals suspected of traveling with airline tickets bought using stolen, compromised or fake credit card details have been arrested or detained. 

Some of the reported cases were linked to illegal immigration, where the arrested passengers were in possession of counterfeited IDs or valid documents from other persons from different nationalities. 

It is worth noting that during the week of action, after receiving an alert on a suspicious transaction and starting the procedure of cooperation between the different partners, one individual was arrested on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant in a European airport and charged with parental abduction. He was trying to flee Europe and reach India with the child. 

GAAD was coordinated from Command Posts at Europol in the The Hague, INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, Ameripol and Colombia in Bogota, Canada and NCFTA (with the US Secret Service) in the US. 

Eurojust assisted during the action days, together with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which deployed officers to 28 airports. The Airport Communication Project (AIRCOP), implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO) and counting the European Union as its main donor, also took part in law enforcement activities at airports in Africa, by deploying one officer at the main Command Post in Europol HQ. 

Representatives from airlines, online travel agencies, payment card companies, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), European Airline Fraud Prevention Group and Perseuss, collaborated with Europol’s experts to identify suspicious transactions and provide confirmation to law enforcement officers deployed in the airports.

In particular, the Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) joined this year’s operation to provide better support to EU Member States and partners for fighting migrant smuggling networks. The operation was further supported by the Taskforce Travel Intelligence (TFTI). Considering that criminals usually use fraud tickets and fake identification documents to facilitate illegal immigration, Europol specialists and analysts equipped with special technical equipment were deployed to several European airports during the investigations. 

“Airline ticket fraud is borderless by nature. This operation was the culmination of many months of meticulous planning between Europol, law enforcement, judiciary and border agencies, airlines and credit card companies, and is a perfect example of how our combined forces can make distinctive contribution in the fight against these criminal syndicates operating across borders”, said Wil van Gemert, Europol’s Deputy Executive Director Operations. 

“The Global Airline Action Day operation is an excellent example of how collaboration between the agencies as well as the public and private sectors serves to tackle and prevent crime such as credit card fraud. The operation was underpinned by professional commitment and mutual support across borders between national, regional and international police organizations”, said Paul Stanfield, INTERPOL Director, Organized & Emerging Crime.

The cooperation and information exchange between the public and the private sector is the most efficient way of fighting tickets fraud and all other forms of organised crime, such as irregular immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug trafficking.

Background

The card-not-present (CNP) fraud, the purchases of physical goods with compromised cards, has seen a significant increase throughout the EU and across many sectors such as, airline tickets, car rentals and accommodation. Tens of thousands of crimes are reported in many EU countries and volume is increasing every year. Airline companies are among the most affected by CNP fraud.

It is estimated that the airline industry’s losses have reached close to 1 billion USD per year, as a result of the fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets. These online transactions are highly lucrative for organised crime and are often linked to more serious criminal activities including irregular immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling and terrorism.