Europol Raids Arrest 141 for Airline Fraud

Published: 27 June 2018

By Jesse Chase-Lubitz

Law enforcement arrested more than 141 individuals across more than 226 airports last week for traveling with criminally acquired airline tickets, Europol reported Tuesday.

The arrests came after a series of coordinated raids at airports across Europe between June 18 and 22. The operation covered 61 countries, 69 airlines, and six online travel agencies and was targeting criminals suspected of traveling with tickets bought with stolen, compromised, or fake credit cards, the Europol statement said. 

Law enforcement reported 334 suspicious transactions and opened numerous investigations.

There are a variety of ways to commit airline fraud. The top three targeted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) include card information theft, stolen frequent flyer miles, and alternative payment routes such as e-wallets, virtual accounts, and crypto currencies. 

Card Not Present (CNP) fraud, in which the customer does not physically present the card during purchase, is especially popular. If the fraudster has the cardholder’s name, billing address, and credit card information, they can simply call or buy a ticket online.

A second way airline fraud is committed is through stolen frequent flyer miles. Fraudsters can provide false information to get loyalty points, claim miles for flights they have already taken and earned points for, they can claim points by having someone else fly, and they can sell and barter miles.

Airlines lose more than US one billion dollars every year to fraudulent online ticket purchases, according to the IATA.

However, in addition to fraudulent flying, these online transactions are also used to facilitate illegal immigration, human trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism.

“Airline fraud is not only highly lucrative for fraudsters,” Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine de Bolle, said. “It creates the risk of serious criminals and terrorists traveling around the world anonymously, potentially to endanger others.”