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Online fraud in private jet charter markets is increasing as markets open up after global lockdown, according to a warning issued today (July 15th) by The Air Charter Association (ACA) and the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).
The two industry associations report that fraudulent companies use pages with images and text stolen from reputable websites, offering aircraft using names, registrations and contract templates from real companies to get clients to part with their money. The fraudsters pay significant sums of money to appear high on the Google Ad search engine and attract more unwitting users.
Dave Edwards, CEO of the ACA, said : “Covid-19 has changed the face of air travel, with commercial airlines forced to cut back services and raise prices. In response, the private jet charter industry has provided a lifeline to organisations, businesses and individuals.
“Alongside this rise in private jet charter, there has been an increase in attempts by fraudsters to steal money from unsuspecting travellers and criminals trying to enter the chain. We have seen examples of fraudsters creating fake websites pretending to be private jet providers to ‘sell ’their services. They are paying significant amounts of money to get high Google Ad search engine ratings and funnel unsuspected customers to these fake websites,” said Edwards.
‘Verify bank details’
Robert Baltus, EBAA chief operations officer added: “Our advice for operators, brokers and end users is to be vigilant. Don’t simply book a private jet charter flight without doing any research on the business you’re working with and making sure it is legitimate. Verify bank details before making payment transfers and, above all, listen to your instincts and check with an independent source such as EBAA or the ACA. If it feels wrong, it invariably is.
“Online fraud is unfortunately here to stay. The basic lessons people apply to any online transaction should also be applied to booking a business jet flight online. It is important to speak to your broker and let them explain to you who they are and what the best option is for you. Make sure you get references for your broker if you have not dealt with them before.”
Imitated by scammers
The Associations say that a fraudulent website which was established this year has reappeared numerous times under a variety of names. It was originally brought to the attention of the ACA and EBAA a few months ago. The operator whose identity was being imitated by the scammers reported it to law enforcement authorities and the site was taken down only to reappear under different name, as mentioned, a few days later.
To best combat the fraudulent website, the ACA has made it clear that, while it will provide as much support as it can, it is imperative the people involved report cases to the authorities .
Edwards told Corporate Jet Investor: “As a result of this issue, EBAA on our collective behalves spoke with Google and received a helpful response but reinforced that it would require the companies affected to make the complaints before they would take action. Ultimately, as we head towards an increase in the use of charter aircraft, it is a risk for the reputation of the industry and it’s imperative that our members, at the very least, report any issues and work with their existing clients, in the same way as banks and financial institutions do, to educate them on the scams taking place.”
Five tips on how to recognise a scam website:
1. Do regular searches on Google for’“private flight prices’ or similar
2. If you find strange or new names in the Google Ad results have a closer look at that page
3. Check there is a phone number and that it works
4. Check that the details make sense
5. Use your experience and gut feeling.
What to do if you think you have spotted a scam website:
• Report the site: https://support.google.com/google-ads/contact/vio_other_aw_policy
• If any details or names of established companies are used, make them aware so they can take action
• Inform the ACA and/or EBAA about the suspected site.
What to do if you or someone you know may be a victim of a scam:
• Tell the victim to file charges with their local law enforcement agency
What charter brokers and operators can do:
Make sure that your customers are aware in newsletters and direct communications of these scams, and encourage them to work with established and credible organisations.
Source: ACA and EBAA