38 Indicted in Extensive, Multi-Million Dollar Travel Fraud Scheme
Posted: Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 at 1:26 pm
The United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Beth Phillips, has announced that 38 defendants have been indicted in a multi-million dollar fraud and identity theft scheme perpetrated by black market travel agents.
A total of six federal indictments allege that the suspects used stolen debit and credit card information to purchase airline tickets, which they then sold at a steep discount to their customers—but at a pure profit to themselves.
The investigation began in 2005, when Sabrina Bowers, 25, of Kansas City, Missouri, and Deidre Turner, 27, of Peculiar, Missouri, stole a laptop computer in Kansas; police officers recovered credit card numbers and mail that the women were illegally possessing, and that they had used to buy several airline tickets. According to investigators, Bowers and Turner allegedly obtained stolen credit and debit card information from hotels in Overland Park, Kansas and Atlanta, Georgia. Law enforcement officers began tracking their activities, along with those of 40-year-old Demetria Harrison and Harrison’s son, and during the course of their investigation garnered enough information about similar fraudulent schemes to lead to the current indictments.
Others named in the indictments allegedly purchased stolen information from co-conspirators in Bangladesh and Vietnam, or stole it from banks and call centers where they were employed. The black market travel agents then used the numbers to purchase airline tickets, usually through the Web sites of the airlines, which they then sold for $75 to $250 per ticket. Some of the customers knew that they were purchasing illegally purchased tickets, and have also been named in the indictments.
Some of the conspirators acted as passenger brokers or referral sources, sending customers to the travel agents who were selling the ill-gotten tickets.
The tickets purchased were for flights into or out of Kansas City International Airport, Springfield-Branson National Airport, and other airports, and were primarily for flights on Delta Air Lines, U.S. Airways and United Airlines, but also on others.
“The assistance of the airlines was invaluable to the federal investigation,” Phillips said. “Airlines provided significant information and devoted substantial resources during the course of this lengthy investigation.”
Authorities called the network of black-market travel agents and other co-conspirators “extensive,” and said that the loss to domestic airlines, financial institutions, other merchants and cardholders totals over $20 million. The investigation was carried out by the Overland Park, Kentucky Police Department, the Kansas City Secret Service Task Force, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration.