WestJet Warns of Discounted Ticket Scam

7 May 2015

Most people are aware of the free airline ticket scam: You get a call from someone claiming to be from an airline and telling you you’ve won a free ticket, but you have to wire money or hand over credit card information in order to claim your prize. However, many people aren’t as aware of other, subtler variations on airline ticket fraud.

For example, WestJet Airlines has recently uncovered a scam in which fraudsters offered deeply discounted tickets to and from a conference in Las Vegas. Claiming they had purchased the tickets but now didn’t need them, they offered the tickets for a more than 50 percent discount, enticing nearly 100 people to buy from them. The only problem was that the tickets had been purchased with a stolen credit card and were already invalid by the time the scammers sold them.

At the same time, the old version of the scam is coming back with a vengeance, with numerous Canadians reporting being repeatedly called by someone pretending to be from WestJet and offering free tickets to a resort. According to WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer, these scammers are not particularly sophisticated, as demonstrated by the fact that they often call the WestJet headquarters itself offering free tickets. Palmer says WestJet employees have taken to asking the scammers stupid questions in an attempt to keep them on the line for as long as possible.

“We keep them on the line as an annoyance factor, because when we’re tying up the phone line, they can’t call out and scam anyone,” Palmer told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

As people often begin buying their summer vacation tickets in early spring, this is a prime period of time for scammers. Some airline ticket scams will only steal your money, but others involve the collection of information that can lead to credit card fraud and identity theft. Here are two of the most common scams to look out for:

  • Email ticket scams. Since the rise of the e-ticket, scammers have taken to sending out fraudulent confirmation emails with files attached that supposedly contain airline tickets, but actually contain viruses. If these files are opened, they can compromise the security of any personal information you may have on your computer. Most e-tickets can be opened within the email itself or using a preview function, so never download any files, especially .zip files, claiming to be e-tickets.
  • Fraudulent discounted tickets. These can come in the form of legitimate tickets purchased with stolen credit cards, as in the WestJet case, or can be completely fictitious. Make sure you purchase airline tickets only from reputable, well-known websites that verify the legitimacy of the tickets they sell, not from third-party seller websites like Craigslist. If you do decide to purchase tickets from an individual that you meet online, make sure to exchange information that will allow you to verify the status of the ticket with the airline before you make any final decisions.

To avoid falling for these scams, make sure to call the airline directly to check on any ticket purchases you may make. You should also follow the general scam-avoidance strategy of never giving out personal information over the phone and never sending money to someone you haven’t met in person. If someone asks you to send money through a money-wiring service, it’s a good sign that they might be a scammer, since money sent through these services is harder to trace and not subject to fraud protection services like credit card transactions are.

While a credit monitoring service won’t protect you from the scams themselves, they will notify you of certain activity in your credit file that could indicate you’ve been a victim of some form of identity theft.