‘SOS’ campaign launches to fight travel cybercrime

A new industry-wide campaign aims to combat the growing menace of cybercrime against travel companies.

Secure Our Systems, spearheaded by Prevention of Fraud in Travel (Profit), will be the first campaign of its kind in the trade.

It comes just ahead of the launch of an industry ‘blacklist’ of known travel fraudsters, part of new anti-fraud system the Fraud Intelligence Network (Fin), which is also being developed by Profit and will enable the reporting of travel fraud and vet job applicants.

Fin, which already has 760 confirmed fraudsters on its list, is designed to make employers aware of individuals’ criminal activity in the sector. Ex-agent Rita Hunter, for example, was jailed in April after defrauding tens of thousands of pounds from The Advantage Travel Partnership.

Profit chairman Barry Gooch said the latest campaign, backed by Travel Weekly and to run for seven weeks, would give the industry the tools to fight cyber criminals and protect themselves from attacks including ransomware, email interception, spyware, spoofing and cloned websites.

The campaign will also offer travel firms the chance to attend webinars and workshops on software designed to intercept criminals hacking computer systems to steal or clone data and hear from cybercrime experts. It will cover topics including technology, security and law.

It comes after widespread coverage of a major data breach at British Airways, affecting 380,000 direct customer transactions from August 21 to September 5, 2018.

Gooch said: “There are so many examples of travel companies that have had ransomware attacks or had email systems brought down by cyber criminals. Through this campaign, we can explain to the trade how to defend themselves. This is an opportunity to reduce cybercrime across the industry.”

David Moon, head of business development, at the Advantage Travel Partnership, welcomed the campaign, which comes as the agency consortium holds regional member meetings on fraud.

He said: “We are giving fraud more attention, particulary employee fraud, because it’s not going to go away.

“It’s easy to say cybercrime only applies to big companies, but you can’t be complacent as an agent; you might be an easier target. It’s important small businesses start to think about this.”

Kate Kenward, executive director of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, also endorsed Secure Our Systems. She said: “Technology has moved on so fast that companies are being caught by surprise and no one is thinking about the implications.”

An Abta spokesperson said: “Unfortunately travel can be an attractive industry for cybercrime so it’s encouraging to hear that Profit’s campaign will be offering free advice to help travel businesses protect themselves.”

Fraudster Rita Hunter under spotlight again

Merseyside Police have confirmed it is continuing to investigate fraud allegations relating to holidays booked through a third-party company but not supplied or paid for.

Travel Weekly revealed last December that convicted fraudster and former travel agent Rita Hunter was facing further allegations of defrauding holidaymakers, having been convicted of defrauding The Advantage Travel Partnership.

The force confirmed this week an investigation into six reports relating to flights and accommodation booked through a third-party company was “ongoing”.

No arrests have been made.

Hunter, who ran Hunters Travel in Liverpool, was ordered to pay £33,000 to Advantage in 2016. She was jailed for six months this April after repaying only £250 of the total compensation, including the money owed to Advantage.

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