For Timothy Lawal, a Lagos-based civil engineer, being a smart air traveler is the ability to buy the cheapest ticket a few days or hours to departure.
But he got his fingers burnt when he paid the sum of N60,000 for a return ticket from Lagos to Abuja. This, according to him, appeared to be the best bargain available. Alas, he was a victim of flight ticket fraud!
Timothy had visited what he thought to be the Air Peace website few days before his trip to Abuja. He transferred the fund to one Tunde Aina’s bank account and the “agent” shared his travel document with him almost immediately.
“After he sent the document, he told me to go the airport about two hours to my departure time, which I did,” Tunde reported. “In fact, he monitored me till I got to the airport that morning. But to my dismay, I was informed at the airport that the document was fake and almost got arrested for possessing fake tickets.”
Gbenga Awe, another victim of flight ticket fraud, was lured into it by his church member, who he told Nairametrics, was working with one of the airlines that the Federal Government took over a few years back.
He narrated, “The fraudster was a minister in my church and had been around for a while before he disappeared. I gave him N65,000 for a flight to Kaduna at a time the flight was about N100,000.
When I asked why the ticket was so cheap, he explained that he was entitled to some staff benefits in form of airline discounts while the airline was running a promo, but when I shared the flight document with a friend, he told me they were fake. We started looking for him but all to no avail. What was surprising was that he had bought tickets for another church member without any issues, but I can’t explain what is going on any longer.”
Segun’s case was different. The retired teacher was called by someone who claimed to be a staff of a travel agency after he had made several efforts to book a flight online.
He narrated, “The guy was so smart and that took me by surprise. He told me about my efforts to book a flight to Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, including my telephone number.
I suspect that this is because I had provided my contact details when making the search for flights on a bogus website that recorded my personal details.
“After paying for the flight as a result of the call, I received a confirmation email, but further enquiries with the airline revealed the booking did not exist. When I attempted to re-contact him, I found that all contacts had been severed.”
These are only three out of unsuspecting hundreds of Nigerians who have been fleeced by fraudsters in the aviation sector, which is valued at about N52.6 billion based on the real GDP for 2020. Findings revealed that in many cases, the fraudsters were very knowledgeable about the flight operations of airlines in the country.
Airlines are bracing up, warning passengers
These fraudulent activities have not escaped the attention of airlines. Critics were stunned when Air Peace Limited published a Fraud Alert on its website. The airline asked unsuspecting customers to be wary of fraudsters who claimed to be staff or agents of the airline.
It stated, “Our attention has been drawn to a certain “Google My Business” page on the web impersonating the Air Peace brand with the aim of defrauding unsuspecting members of the public by requesting that money be paid into the operator’s private accounts for flight tickets.”
How airline ticket fraud works
* Criminals use stolen, compromised or hacked credit card details to buy airline tickets and offer these tickets for sale at bargain prices via professional-looking websites or social networking accounts, which appear to be for legitimate travel agencies or agents.
* The fraudsters ask for immediate payment, typically by cash, bank transfer or virtual currencies.
* After payment has been made, the victim receives the flight booking confirmation – with their original purchase details deleted.
Passengers are at fault, but Airlines and NCAA can do more, experts say
An Internal Control and IT expert, Akin Adeniji, told Nairametrics that these kinds of fraud being uncovered in the aviation sector could not be perpetrated alone, but required a network of people across the sector and the regulator.
He explained that in most cases, there is some internal collusion as some of the fraudsters were staff of airlines who know the nitty-gritty of airline operations.
Adeniji said, “The apex regulator, which is NCAA, can do better than what it does now. Most of the fraudsters understand the operations of the airlines like the back of their palms.
I understand that the airlines are sensitizing the public about the activities of the fraudsters and the NCAA has also insisted that all passengers should ignore touts and patronize the airlines directly.
But more can be done. I suggest the regulator and airlines should emulate the CBN and commercial banks on the aggressive approach of the latter to warn their consumers against disclosing their personal identification numbers to strangers.”
An Aviation expert, Muyiwa Lucas, advised that when passengers are purchasing tickets from a company they don’t know and trust, “carry out some research first, such as searching the company’s name on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) website. You can also ask friends or family for advice before you make a purchase.
Don’t pay for tickets by bank transfer as it offers you little protection if you become a victim of fraud. Never reveal any personal or financial detail as a result of an unsolicited call, email or text. Don’t be deceived if someone knows your basic details because they may not be genuine.”
John Mark, another industry watcher, explained that passengers were at risk from increasingly sophisticated attempts to sell them fraudulent flight tickets.
He said, “For their casualties, such menace causes real financial and emotional distress, while also shattering their plans for a holiday or a visit to see family and friends.
To protect yourself from fake flight tickets, research the company you are booking with and if you are booking online, thoroughly check the web address to make sure it is legitimate, or check with the airlines.”
While the doctrine of “caveat emptor or buyer beware” might sound like a cliché, and the responsibility of protecting and maintaining the integrity of the aviation ecosystem rests on the aviation authorities, in the end, everyone has a role to play in shielding themselves from financial losses to fraudsters and the grief that follows thereof.