How Travel Agents Can Avoid Becoming a Victim of Fraud

by Kerry Tice
How Travel Agents Can Avoid Becoming a Victim of Fraud

ARC's Doug Nass speaking at Travel MarketPlace East in Toronto. Photo: Dan Galbraith


Fraudsters target travel agents every day, and a seminar recently held at Travel MarketPlace East in Toronto led by the Airlines Reporting Corp.’s (ARC) Manager of Risk Management Doug Nass, shined a light on the tools and safeguards available to protect and prevent some of the most common attempts at fraud. 

“It’s not realistic to stop fraud,” said Nass. “But what we can do is try to spot it early and make those losses as minimal as possible.” 

According to Nass, many times there are cases of fraud that could have been avoided simply by checking basic data. Knowing your customer is key to not becoming a victim, but in cases of uncertainty, here is a checklist of ways to combat fraud: 

Avoid foreign credit cards. Use a bin checker to verify which bank issued the credit card (enter the first 6 digits) at www.binlist.net

Home address. Ask for the client’s home address and then look it up on Google Maps to see if it corresponds to what you have been told. Even if the address exists, take it a step further and ask them what color their front door is? www.google.ca/maps and  www.google.us/maps 

Telephone. Ask the client to provide you with a telephone number to use for contact purposes. Then do a reverse lookup to verify if the addresses match using www.whitepages.com and www.canada411.ca.

Social media. Check out the client’s social media to see if their profile looks “normal” on sites like Facebook.com, Canada People Finder and LinkedIn. 

People search engine. www.pipl.com is one of the sites you can use to find someone who might seem like they pose a risk. 

Verification. Verify cardholder name, address, telephone number and/or email address on the account. Visa (800) 847-2911, under merchant option choose 2 for “all other inquiries.”; Mastercard (800) 247-4623, you will need to enter the credit card number; Amex (800) 528-2121, you will need to enter the credit card number. 

Prevention is your best defense
In addition to this checklist, Nass said there are other signs travel agents need to be aware of to avoid instances of fraud. For one, new clients who are booking with you for less than 6 to 12 months can represent risk, so it’s important to review each reservation and particularly watch out for changes in credit cards used.  

Last minute travel should also raise an eyebrow, as anyone traveling within 72 hours poses a much higher fraud probability, as does anyone traveling to high-risk international destinations (i.e. Africa) or from overseas locations. Nass said it is best to only process these types of reservations from proven customers. 

Suspicious names should raise a flag, so be especially careful if the traveler’s names are very different from that of the cardholder. Also, does the passport name match the traveler exactly? Be sure to look for evidence of tampering and check credit card copies and signatures as well. Nass told travel agents in attendance that some fraudsters will omit the signature, so if an image is received via email, be sure to enlarge the image to double-check. 

And speaking of email, be wary of free email services and mindful of company emails, as sometimes fraudsters try to latch onto existing corporate accounts posing as executives and throwing around names of lower-level employees they got by calling a general line. Nass advises using www.whois.com to check the domain name of any email. 

ACTA & ARC advocate for agents
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) recently completed a fraud survey of its members, of which 500 people responded. While just 8 percent of the respondents said they had actually experienced fraud, 97 percent said they knew someone who had. 

In their efforts towards fraud prevention, ACTA said they are trying to develop steps or a manual that will help travel agents combat fraud. Among the most interesting findings of the survey was that most agencies do not have automated tools to track fraud. However, 63 percent said they have some type of training in place at their agency to prevent fraud, including 80 percent who said they have actual rules that employees must follow. 

ACTA plans to do a follow-up survey this fall to see if its efforts, thus far, are improving the results of the association’s action against fraud. “What we are trying to do is improve the communication about fraud to your head offices, consortia and the ACTA membership,” said Doreen Lynch, director of ACTA membership. “Ultimately, if we can improve the transaction process so we don’t have to have a manual process, we can counter the fraud.” 

ARC has designated September “Fraud Month” and Nass said the organization will be aggressively promoting webinars that it will host 3-5 times a week on fraud, covering agencies of all sizes who transact all types of business. “We are really trying to emphasize the fact that this is an important topic and there are people who can help.”

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The professional travel advisor’s job is to equip the traveler with the necessary information to enable a good decision that will reflect that person’s own risk tolerance.
 
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