Fraud and London 2012: How scammers will target travel agents

Fraud and London 2012: How scammers will target travel agents

The London Olympics could be a field day for fraudstersLike most major sporting events, the London 2012 Olympic Games will be a field day for fraudsters.

Whenever demand for tickets exceeds supply, scammers take advantage of consumers willing to lay aside their doubts for the chance to support their country or favourite team.

An event on the scale of the Olympics opens up a wealth of opportunities for bogus travel agents, counterfeit ticket sellers and credit card fraud.

The Metropolitan Police has recognised the risk by setting up a focus group called Operation Podium, which is in the early stages of establishing a strategy for avoiding fraud during the Olympics.

In the third week of Fraud Awareness Month, Travel Weekly exposes the scams you and your clients should watch out for.

Fraudulent agents

Big events are a common target for fly-by-night travel fraudsters who sell a raft of packages and flee with customers’ cash.

In the years leading up to London 2012, experts predict these fraudsters will try to ­infiltrate existing agencies by applying for jobs or inviting the owner to become a business partner.

Travel Weekly Fraud Awareness Month - February 2009Teletext head of compliance Barry Gooch said: “The temptation for travel companies worried about revenues is to take greater risks, yet this is exactly what fraudsters are looking for. Avoid being a victim of these scams by making sure you thoroughly vet all new staff and potential business partners.”

Agents must also avoid dealings with fraudulent companies – otherwise they could find themselves liable.  “Should one of your suppliers subsequently turn out to be fraudulent you could find that you are responsible for their wrong-doing,”  advised Gooch.

“Under no circumstances should you help a company that seeks to use your IATA ticket machine or credit card processing facilities. Not only is this asking for trouble, it is a quick route to losing your facilities.”

Ticketing

A total of 7.7 million tickets will be available for the 2012 Olympic Games, with another 1.5 million for the Paralympic Games. But there will also be thousands of counterfeit tickets in circulation.

Thousands of Brits paid for tickets for the Beijing Olympics that never arrived, with the family of double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington among the victims.

Six people have been arrested and investigators from the Serious Fraud Office are examining the activities of Xclusive Tickets and Xclusive Leisure and Hospitality, which have now gone into liquidation.

Many travel agencies will be putting together packages for the Olympics and are being warned to be careful about where they buy their tickets.

“The Olympics is a fantastic opportunity for travel agents but they need to watch out,” said ABTA head of finance Mike Monk. “The only way for agents to put together a package is to get the tickets from a third party. They have to be absolutely sure the supplier is properly accredited to sell tickets.”

One way of guaranteeing tickets are legitimate is by working with an accredited operator. Justin Hopwood, head of sales and marketing for sports travel ­operator Mike Burton, said: “The best way for agents to sell tickets is to approach an appointed agent and become an authorised sub agent.

"Asking to work with an official agent will make sure tickets you sell are safe, secure and legal.”

Credit card fraud

Agents are also warned to be vigilant when taking payments from foreign travellers here for the Olympics. Many visitors will be looking to explore the UK while they are here and are likely to look to travel agents for domestic flights and hotels.

“You can’t do the same checks on a foreign credit card – you can’t check the address and [some] don’t have chip and PIN,” said Monk. “You should only accept a card if the customer is there in person and you can check the signatures match.”

Tips: How to avoid 2012 scammers

  • Tickets for the London 2012 Olympics will go on sale in 2011. Beware of anyone offering tickets before this date.
  • Make sure you obtain tickets from an accredited supplier or operator. Don’t assume that a professional-looking site is genuine.
  • If you come across a company you suspect is selling tickets fraudulently, contact Consumer Direct. If it is a limited company, contact the Companies Investigations Branch of the Department for Business, Enterprise and  Regulatory Reform.
  • Fraudsters are likely to target agencies that are struggling during the recession. Make sure you vet any new or unusual suppliers. 
  • Only deal with foreign credit card transactions face to face to avoid cardholder-not-present fraud.


More from Fraud Awareness Month at travelweekly.co.uk/fraud


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