Travellers Getting Boarding Passes At Check-In
Travellers Getting Boarding Passes At Check-In

Fake ticket sites catch Aussies desperate to come home

OPINION

Australians stranded overseas, desperate to come home, are creating the perfect opportunity for scammers.

A young Australian athlete contacted IDCARE's support service this week because she was caught out in a scam after buying fake tickets online in her desperate bid to come home from America.

The 19-year-old athlete flew to America on a university scholarship in January.

Unfortunately, she injured her leg and, with the COVID-19 situation developing across the country, she decided to come home.

But the journey home for Australians overseas is expensive and complicated.

The American Embassy's official site warns caps on international passenger arrivals into Australia "make it harder for Australians to get home".

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The athlete Google searched for flights and came across a site for a popular airline that looked legitimate, so she booked the tickets.

After an initial hiccup with her flight being "cancelled", she went to the airport and showed the airline her ticket.

That's when she was informed the ticket she bought did not exist and she had been caught out in a scam.

She didn't only lose $14,000 in ticket fares to a scammer, she had to pay for a new ticket home and is now having to deal with her passport and credit card details being exposed to scammers and the ongoing risk of identity theft.

I spoke to the athlete this week from her hotel quarantine room in Sydney.

Understandably, she was devastated, but she gave me permission to share her story.

"Anything that would help anyone else avoid what happened to me would be good," she said.

I also had a chat to IDCARE's managing director, Dr David Lacey, about what people could do to avoid being caught out in scams like the athlete.

His advice was to pay close attention to the website URL or domain that was shown and check for inconsistencies (e.g. typos) before buying an item.

The athlete couldn't remember the website she found the ticket on, but she shared email correspondence she received from the scammers.

On closer inspection, it was clear the email address wouldn't have come from an official airline.

One came up as American.Airlines@info.email.aa.com.

Mr Lacey also recommended people go to the legitimate site and check the contact (telephone and email address) to make sure they were the same.

And finally, use the power of the online community to see if similar stories are being shared and if there are similar events that may point out to it being a scam.

Of course, this knowledge is wonderful in hindsight and, potentially, the last thing on an Australian travellers mind when they are desperate to get home.

Kathy Sundstrom is a former Sunshine Coast Daily journalist who now works at identity and cyber support service IDCARE.