Security Experts:

118 Online Airline Fraud Suspects Arrested in International Operation

International law enforcement agencies today announced the results of a two-day operation targeting individuals who purchase plane tickets using stolen or fake payment card data.

The operation was coordinated by Europol, Interpol and Ameripol. A total of 60 airlines and 45 countries were involved in the “Global Airport Action,” which took place at over 80 airports across the world and benefited from the support of travel and credit card companies.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) contributed with fraud intelligence, while payment card companies such as American Express, MasterCard and Visa leveraged their financial data systems to confirm suspicions of fraud.

Nearly 300 suspicious transactions were reported during the operation, and 118 individuals were arrested, including some that were previously arrested at airports, Europol and Interpol said in separate press releases.

Investigators have also uncovered links between credit card fraud and other types of serious crime, such as human and drug trafficking.

“This operation is another example of law enforcement and the private sector working seamlessly together, to prevent and fight cybercrime – this time identity theft and credit card fraud,” commented Europol Director Rob Wainwright. “We are reaching new levels with our cooperation and aim to become an 'unbeatable alliance' with aspirations to make cyberspace as crime free as possible for global citizens. Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) will continue to invest heavily in conducting similar operations and other activities that will make life harder for cybercriminals.”

IATA said the airline industry suffered losses of $1 billion due to fraudulent online ticket booking. Such illegal activities also affect consumers and sectors like banking and travel, authorities noted.

“Fraudsters are costing the airline industry significant amounts of money, but above all the IATA airline members do not want to transport criminals and thus facilitate their illicit activities. IATA is proud that the airline industry can support in any possible way the efforts of the police fighting organised crime by collaborating in this combined action of Ameripol, Interpol, Europol, the European law enforcement agencies, the card brands and airports around the globe,” said Aleks Popovich, Sr. Vice President of Financial and Distribution Services at IATA.

In early November, law enforcement authorities in the U.S. and Europe arrested 17 individuals suspected of conducting illegal activities via the Tor anonymity network. One of the suspects is believed to be the operator of the black market website Silk Road 2.0. 

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.