Kansas City, MO – A laptop stolen five years ago in Overland Park has led to federal charges of a custom, stolen-to-order airline ticket scam that ranged through 28 states and Canada. Secret indictments were opened today describing thousands of identity thefts.
Many who bought tickets knew something was amiss, when airfare worth hundreds of dollars could be bought for as low as $75 .
38 men and women are charged as part of a network of black market travel agents in a scheme that victimized individuals and airlines to the tune of more than $20 million.
The probe began when Sabrina Bowers of Kansas City and Deidre Turner of Peculiar, Missouri allegedly stole a Dell laptop from an Overland Park house in 2005. U. S. Attorney Beth Phillips says it was first of thousands of credit card and identity thefts. Will victims get their money back? In her words-- "that's going to depend on the agreement between the card holder and their credit card company. The primary losses were incurred by the credit card companies and the airlines."
Court documents say tickets were often bought close to departure time to increase likelihood airlines, credit or debit card companies or identity theft victims would not detect the fraudulent purchases, and have tickets canceled.
One set of indictments describes the accused using stolen identities to make online purchases at Internet websites of the reservation systems of most major U.S. airlines.
One typical allegation in the indictments describes a purported transaction in September of 2008. According to the charge, a woman identified only as "F P" of Douglasville, Georgia called a Bank of America call center in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She was asking for a balance transfer involving her Bank of America Visa card. The bank employee she spoke with was Tyrone Jackson. The 23 year old Jackson allegedly then stole her card information and used it to book two airline tickets.
Over time, the victim's account number was used by others around the country, over and over.
The black market dealings were traced within much of the United States and into Canada, Bangladesh and Vietnam.