How Travel Agents Can Avoid Fraudulent Bookings
Travel agents have always been a high target for fraud. According to the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), there have been huge increases in fraud in the past year. With the pressure of COVID requiring agents to keep a close eye on their finances, it is more important than ever to stay vigilant of fraudsters. In a time where everyone is eager to make a sale, it can be easy to miss some of the red flags that would typically catch your attention.
Remain alert, use your resources to prove identity, and make sure to get authorization in writing from cardholders before purchase.
5 Red Flags for Avoiding Fraudulent Bookings
- Last-minute purchases
- Phony website/email
- Suspicious phone, address, or cc info
- Not concerned with price/schedule
- Anxious about payment
A last-minute purchase is one of the first signs of possible fraud. With the uncertainty of the year, many travelers are taking advantage of last-minute opportunities whenever they can. Obviously, your long-time clients will feel comfortable booking with you on a whim. But new clients are more likely to spend some time getting to know you before making a purchase. So if a new client approaches you wanting to make a booking with a departure of 72 hours or less, this should be a cause for caution.
Phony corporate website/email
Travel agents are natural-born “helpers.” We just love to take care of people! Because of this, it’s not a travel agent’s first instinct to question someone who says they’re a teacher, minister, or a medical professional. Unfortunately, fraudsters commonly pose as professionals like these. Take note of whether they are emailing you from a confirmed business/nonprofit email (such as a .edu or .org address) or from a personal Yahoo, Outlook, or Gmail account.
If they do appear to have a business email address, you can verify the domain with Whois Lookup. How long ago was the website created? If it was created recently, this is a warning! Go visit the website itself. Does it look legitimate?
Suspicious phone, address, or credit card information
In addition to verifying suspicious-looking emails and websites, you can also double-check their phone number, address, and credit card information. Use whitepages.com to do a reverse phone lookup. Is it a VoIP (Voice over IP) number? Check out the phone number on whocallsme.com. Is anyone posting complaints about the caller’s phone number? Use Google Maps to check the address. Is it a home, a hotel, or a hospital? Avoid accepting payment from foreign credit cards. You can verify which bank issued a credit card with binlist.net.
Not concerned with price or schedule
When assisting clients with air travel, travel agents will sometimes offer a few different options. Some clients are willing to pay more to get on the exact flights they want. Other travelers are willing to be flexible with times in order to save. If you find yourself working with a client who doesn’t really seem to care about the schedule or the price, this could be another red flag. A fraudster is often anxious to get the booking finalized before they are caught.
Anxious about making payment
Another warning sign is when a customer seems to be particularly concerned about the payment. They will often bring up payment methods early on in the quoting process and be frustrated with any attempt to verify their identity. Remember, a legitimate customer will appreciate you taking steps to protect their payment information, a fraudster will not.
Be Cautious but Professional
You can be cautious while keeping your communications courteous and professional. ARC says to “trust but verify.” If a client is frustrated by your verification process, simply let them know that this is your protocol for protecting their information. And if your research doesn’t check out, you don’t have to make any strong accusations. Simply let them know that you attempted to validate their information but were unable to do so. Make the rest of your staff aware of the situation. Fraudsters typically display communication “patterns” when they approach travel agents.
The best defense is a good offense!
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