An international law enforcement operation targeting airline fraudsters has led to the arrest or detention of 79 individuals suspected of traveling with airline tickets bought using stolen, compromised or fake credit card details.
The 12th edition of the Global Airline Action Days (GAAD) was coordinated from command posts at Europol in The Hague, the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) in Singapore, Ameripol in Colombia, Canada and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA) in the United States.
With 165 suspicious transactions uncovered, GAAD involved 60 countries, 56 airlines and 12 online travel agencies as part of an international and multidisciplinary operation to fight fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets.
The five-day operation involved more than 200 airports worldwide.
Cooperation and information exchange
In this respect, during the operation INTERPOL collaborated closely with private sector experts – including from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), American Express, Mastercard, and VISA CyberSource – some of whom joined the IGCI command post in Singapore.
Representatives from GCCPOL also joined INTERPOL’s command post to facilitate cooperation whilst colleagues from ASEANAPOL provided assistance from their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“The Global Airport Action Day Operation targets criminals who are engaged in airline ticket fraud and other related criminal activity. It is an excellent example of public-private partnership collaboration via a multi-agency approach that successfully tackles transnational organized crime and safeguards communities worldwide,” said Paul Stanfield, INTERPOL Director, Organized and Emerging Crime.
“Working across multiple jurisdictions and borders, INTERPOL is able to use its global platform to coordinate its international effort and share information securely and in real time. As money and quick profits are the key enabler for organized crime, INTERPOL will continue to focus on the illicit finances of those involved to remove the incentive to commit the crime and prevent them being reinvested into other criminal enterprises,” added Mr Stanfield.
A coordinated multi-stakeholder approach
Eurojust assisted during the operation, together with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which deployed officers to 28 airports. The Airport Communication Project (AIRCOP), implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO) also took part in law enforcement activities during the operation.
Representatives from airlines, online travel agencies, payment card companies, IATA, European Airline Fraud Prevention Group and Perseuss, also collaborated with Europol’s experts to identify suspicious transactions and provide confirmation to law enforcement officers deployed in airports.
Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) joined this year’s operation to provide better support to EU Member States and partners for fighting migrant smuggling networks.
“Airline ticket fraud is borderless by nature. This operation was the culmination of many months of meticulous planning between Europol, law enforcement, judiciary and border agencies, airlines and credit card companies, and is a perfect example of how our combined forces can make distinctive contribution in the fight against these criminal syndicates operating across borders”, said Wil van Gemert, Europol’s Deputy Executive Director Operations.
It is estimated that the airline industry’s losses have reached close to USD 1 billion per year, because of the fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets. These online transactions are highly lucrative for organized crime and are often linked to more serious criminal activities including irregular immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling and terrorism.