A total of 162 suspicious transactions were reported and 133 individuals detained earlier this month during a joint operation to combat online fraud in the airline sector, Europol said in a statement last week.
Under the coordination of Europol, the operation included travel and credit card companies such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express, 35 airlines and 32 countries* across 109 airports and targeted criminals suspected of fraudulently purchasing plane tickets online using stolen or fake credit card data.
“This operation was the culmination of many months of meticulous planning between Europol, law enforcement, prosecuting and border control agencies, airlines and credit card companies, and is a perfect example of how our combined forces can track down the criminal syndicates responsible for committing large scale fraud and other offences,” said Europol Director Rob Wainwright.
The rise in internet-facilitated crime — often via fake online “travel agencies” — affects millions of travelers every year with the banking, airline and travel industries suffering massive financial losses in the process. Europol adds that in many cases credit card fraud has been linked to drug trafficking and human trafficking, among others.
On receipt of alerts from airlines, credit card company representatives confirmed suspicions via their financial data systems, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) provided fraud intelligence from its databases. Notifications were sent to transport hubs while law enforcement officers intercepted and detained criminals attempting to travel using fraudulently obtained flight tickets.
IATA said it is aware of the extent of fraud affecting its members, and believes that the airline industry alone will not be able to thwart this fast growing trend.
In the meantime, Europol said it will continue to support EU member states, working closely with the private sector and other international organisations, to improve security at the airports.
*Countries involved in the initiative included Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Iceland, Turkey, United States of America, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela and Canada.