Triangle Travel Scam : Agents Left Without a Ticket

by Suresh Dakshina
Triangle Travel Scam : Agents Left Without a Ticket

Photo: Mtcv

You're a professional travel agent, so you know better than to sell vacations in the Bermuda Triangle, where legend says travelers disappear. But did you know that there's also a Travel Triangle of Fraud that can make your money disappear?

Let's meet Bob, who has saved for his dream vacation for months and months. Bob knew when he wanted to travel, and where. He's taking the whole family to meet the relatives. Because he's a deal hunter, Bob doesn't go to you, or another established Online Travel Agent (OTA). Instead, he's thrilled to have found a new OTA with a splashy website.

This OTA is able to book the tickets well in advance, and at a significant discount. Plus Bob can get hotel and car reservations at a discount too—what a deal! But he must buy now!

So Bob gives supplies his credit card and personal information. The website immediately sends a confirmation and tickets to Bob's inbox, just as a regular travel agent would. Nothing to worry about, right?

But when Bob shows up at the airport weeks later, tickets in hand, he is told he has no reservations after all. His spouse, his kids, even his grandkids, are staring at him, confused and disappointed.

Bob's dream vacation turned into a nightmare. He'd been scammed, by one of the fastest growing travel scams in the industry: the Triangle Fraud.

A sad, true story. But how does this affect you, the honest travel agent? Wait for it.

Part two of the triangle scam comes next. Bob's credit card is now in the hands of the fraudster, being used not only to buy stuff on eBay—but also to buy real plane tickets! That's where YOU come in, Mr. or Ms. Honest Travel Agent. You are part three of the triangle.

The fraudster called YOU, or went to your legitimate website, needing plane tickets, or cruise tickets, or some other travel tickets, and needing them fast. Being a good agent trying to help a client, you might have skipped a step or two in verifying his identity, especially since he was in a hurry and buying a $12,000 first-class ticket. The credit card is good, after all. Then you pay the airline or cruise line using your regular account.

Then the fraudster turned around and sold those tickets. Or maybe, because the scam was over for now, and he had shut down all his websites, or had run out of merchant service providers, he's going home. On your dime.

And that's where the third side of the triangle falls in, on you.

Bob will contact his card issuer for chargebacks, and because of the clear signs of fraud, he has a good chance of recovering some or all of his money. No dream vacation, and an embarrassing inconvenience, but not much of a loss.

The eBay seller, or the department store? Same thing. Fraudulent card, file a chargeback. Will they get their merchandise back? Not a chance. But they may get some of their money back, if they have good records, a good system and a good representative fighting for them (like Chargeback Gurus).

But what about you, the Honest and Professional Travel Agent? Sad to say, you are likely shipwrecked.

The cruise line or airline will point out to you that even though you claim to have been ripped off, the passenger is traveling on tickets purchased with a valid credit card—your credit card. That could leave you in the position of knowing exactly where that person is, right down to the flight and even the seat number, and not being able to do anything about it.

Not only are you out the $240 commission you might have made, you're out the $12,000 you paid for the ticket.

The best defense against the Triangle Fraud? Having a strong system of card and client verification. That includes calling the issuing bank for authorization, then calling the issuing bank and asking them to voice-verify, and maybe even asking the client to fax a picture of their ID along with the credit card.


Suresh Dakshina, co-founder of Chargeback Gurus, has more than a decade's experience in fraud and chargeback prevention, and has invented many unique solutions to protect merchants.


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