Travel agents have been warned about a growing threat from fraudsters who send unsolicited e-mails requesting airline tickets that they then buy with stolen credit cards.

Travel Weekly was alerted to the scam this week by managing director Ian Calvert from Have a Nice Stay Travel in Plymouth after he received an e-mail from a person claiming to represent a firm called Ecotour.

Calvert said the e-mails usually request flights to Lagos, Dubai or Dublin at short notice and they demand the tickets are sent electronically.

Travel Weeky - Stamp out fraud in travelOften the e-mails are written in broken English but recent messages appear to have been more professionally produced.

If agents take the payment the credit card company then charges the agent because the cards have not been reported stolen.

Having been caught out in the past, Have a Nice Stay Travel now has a policy of not sending e-tickets to customers flying at short notice, insisting on a postal address.

However, often the con men give a false address from where they collect the tickets.

Metropolitan Police fraud intelligence officer Detective Constable Peter Burns said agents can expect more e-mails like this because fraudsters increasingly target businesses via the Internet thanks to the anonymity it provides. He urged agencies to have policies to avoid being caught out.

An ABTA spokesman said the vast majority of travellers are honest although some areas of the world are prone to fraudulent transactions. “We would recommend members consider not accepting cardholder-not-present transactions.”

Last week Travel Weekly launched a fraud awareness campaign with the industry’s anti-fraud group ahead of an ABTA seminar in May.