Almost had $1200 stolen

I am very internet savvy. I am very cautious about online transactions am someone others contact when they are checking on spam or online rip offs  – and I almost got stung for $1200.

What stopped me? Some red flags that I think through before booking on-line. I recommend that you need to consider these red flags whenever you book online. While on my Facebook, up popped the advertisement shown here. I clicked the link and got the website of Cheaper-Flights.net.au

Red Flag #1 Unknown Supplier

I had never heard of Cheaper-Flights but this is not unusual on the internet so I took it as an orange flag

I was interested in a good fare to Hong Kong and curious to see what they could do so I completed their on-line booking form.  I got an immediate response which impressed me. They quoted a fare of $1199 for Premium Economy to Hong Kong in peak season.

 

Red Flag #2 Deal Too Good to Be True

If the deal is too good to be true, it will be. 
Compare any deal you are offered with two or three other agencies. An agent offering over 50% off an international flight is way beyond the realm of possibility.
In this case,  Cheaper flights quoted me $1199 for Premium Economy from Melbourne to Hong Kong. Every other agent was offerring a fare between $2700 and $4000. I was now very suspicious.

Red Flag #3 Agent Sells Without Your Permission 

The next thing I knew was that I received a cheery email with confirmation of my booking, an E-ticket and a Travel insurance Policy in my name for the flight. I had not authorised the booking.
No travel agent will proceed with any deal without the permission of the customer. This can mean tense moments for an agent as they watch seats selling fast and their customer has not contacted them to give that permission.

Red Flag #4: Seller wants less money than ticket worth

When I checked with Qantas, I found that the booking confirmation number was genuine.  Qantas advised me the fare had been booked in my name and paid for by Credit Card. It was not my Credit Card, however. The ticket will probably have been paid for by a stolen credit card. Once the transaction is reported, the ticket will be cancelled and a luckless traveller will find out days or hours before or worse at the check in counter, that they have a false ticket.  This is why I never buy tickets second hand on Craigs List, Gumtree or E-Bay.
The fare on the ticket was $2700 but Cheaper-Flights wanted me to pay only $1199 by bank transfer to an online bank account. Sometimes the ticket price will be different to what you pay but again not by that much! So now, I knew this was a scam.


Red Flag #5: No Real World Details: 

Looking at the confirmation email, there was no address or phone number listed. A legitimate company would have them.
Interestingly on the actual booking at Qantas was a phone number. I rang the number and found it was not connected. Now I knew the booking was false. To be sure, I emailed Cheaper-Tickets complimenting them on their swift service and asking for their Company Registration Numbers. They quickly replied with the requested information.

Red Flag #6 No official Registration


Cheaper-Flights was using the Company registration of another Travel Agency. Cheaper flights were not registered with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA). Always check to see if your Travel Agency is registered:
  • Canada: The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA)
  • Singapore: National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS)
  • South Africa: Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA)
  • Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ)
  • UK: Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA
  • USA:   American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)

 

Red Flag #7: Website “Faulty”

Now I knew Cheaper Flights.net.au was a scam. I had a closer look at their website: 
  • The website was not complete
  • 75% of the links did not go anywhere
  • the company name was different in different places (you would think they would get that right)
  • there were no testimonies from customers
  • the name of Jetstar, a major Australian airline was misspelt
  • there were strange phrasings. eg This is a predominantly new business measure, but one which offers a secure customer peace of mind. 
  • the actual agent’s name on the website was different to that of the agent on the emails
  • there was no ownership structure or information on the site
  • there was no phone number or address

Conclusions

At this point, I contacted Qantas, the Travel Agents Association, the Scamwatch authority in my country and the travel agency that was being falsely linked to this company through the Company Registration Number that was being used. It seems a lot of people have been dealing with cheaper-flights. I didn’t lose any money but how many will have?  Imagine rocking up to the airport and finding your business or holiday trip is not going to happen because your tickets do not exist. Don’t let it be you. Bookmark my red flags!

Check out Legitimate online travel agencies here. Please add your comments below!

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I thought it looked suspicious but had no idea of finding out exactly.

  2. I too saw the Cheaper-Flights advertisement on Facebook. I got a quote from them for a recent domestic flight ticket which I had already purchased and it turned out to be $600 cheaper than what I had paid which like you said is too good to be true. So I emailed them again asking them how I can pay for the ticket and the only form of payment accepted is direct bank deposit. The red flag immediately went on. How can a legitimate travel agency not accept credit card payment? Even my local corner store in a small country town accepts credit card payment. The other red flag was that when I asked them about departure and arrival time they just told me to go to Qantas website and check it myself, that was so unprofessional. So I thought I would google it and see what comes up. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. It's now in the news :)http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/warning-over-cheap-airline-tickets/story-e6frfq80-1225946070351

  4. Hi guys….we had a role in this!!!!!! How did they find put about the ABN????? I found that out and told Best Flights who told WA ConsmersCheck out:http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/warning-issued-over-cheap-flights-website-20101030-177vz.htmlonsumers are being warned about a flights website that is offering airline tickets that are up to 50 per cent lower than market rates.Western Australia Consumer Protection has raised the alarm about the site cheaper-flights.com.au which advertises via social media.Consumer Protection commissioner Anne Driscoll said investigations were continuing but said she wanted to warn consumers as early as possible.Advertisement: Story continues belowShe said a legitimate WA company which sells flights contacted the watchdog to report cheaper-flights.com.au was wrongly quoting its ABN."We have discovered that this site is operating out of Eastern Europe and that emails which they send to customers emanate from the United States," she said.She said consumers were warned to defer making bookings on cheaper-flights.com.au until further notice and that they should not reveal any bank or credit card details to it.She said consumers in doubt about a travel booking could contact it to check on the details of the agent they were dealing with.Consumer Protection would also like to speak to consumers who may have had troublesome dealings with cheaper-flights.com.au or any related travel websites.

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