What can happen if someone steals your credit or debit card info? Well, one of the most common consequences is the immediate purchase of one or more high-priced international airline tickets.
Airlines are aware of this and most try to guard against it by matching the credit card data against the name and address information submitted by the passenger. Not every airline does this, however, and a consumer named Victor would nominate Qatar Airways as one of the top offenders.
Victor, who is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., recently found $3,000 worth of bogus charges on his debit card -- one, a $1,700 ticket and the other a $1,300 passage, both from Italy to India on Qatar Airways. Victor doesn't know anyone in either country and hasn't been there recently.
Curious as to how this could have happened, Victor went to the Qatar site and walked through the ticket-ordering process.
"I discovered that Qatar Airlines only requests the information that is listed on a person's debit/credit card to book a plane ticket for anywhere in the world. Every other company that I know of requires customers to also provide the address that is associated with the debit/credit card, but Qatar Airlines doesn't," he told ConsumerAffairs.
"I quickly learned that Qatar Airlines makes it easy for anyone to get scammed through their website which is plain and simple negligence. Per one of their supervisors, it happens often," Victor said in his original posting earlier this month.
We contacted Qatar on Dec. 23, asking their press representative to look into the matter but did not receive even a stock reply.
Since Qatar ignored our request for information, we tried to duplicate the process Victor complained of. We began the process of booking a quick three-day trip from Rome to Delhi on Qatar, using the name of our fine colleague Truman Lewis. This would have set Truman back €1,505 (or about US$2,079) had he not refused to let us borrow his credit card.
We ordered Truman a special meal -- gluten-free vegetarian -- and the booking process moved along quite nicely. When we got to the payment page, we were unable to replicate Victor's experience. The Qatar site wanted the cardholder's billing address and warned that the card would need to be presented at check-in.
Could it be that Qatar has in fact cleaned up its procedure? Could Victor have been mistaken? We'll never know, thanks to Qatar's highly unusual failure to even acknowledge our inquiry.
Victor digs deeper
Whatever Qatar may have done or not done, one thing it definitely didn't do was bestir itself to apprehend the villains.
"I called Qatar Airlines and asked for information about the travelers who fraudulently purchased tickets through my bank account. An employee gave me their names, date/time of travel (which was about 4 hours from that time), and the places where they were traveling to/from," Victor said. "A supervisor quickly got on the phone and stated that they can not provide any additional information and that the best that they could do to stop them is to request that they present the credit card that was used to purchase the plane tickets."
Sounds kind of exciting, doesn't it? The crooks being headed off at the pass, so to speak. Perhaps, but the story ends more with a whimper than with a bang.
You might think that, once Qatar had found the fraudsters' identity that the Carabinieri or the India Police or someone similar would be summoned to round up the ticket rustlers and herd them off to jail. But it didn't happen that way.
"I was later informed that these individuals were not allowed to travel but the authorities were not contacted," Victor said. In other words, the crooks got off scot-free, missing nothing but a free junket.
"My organization's investigative services have been requesting additional details on these individuals to prevent others from being scammed but to date, their requests have been ignored by Qatar Airlines," Victor said. "We were puzzled as to why they are protecting these individuals. Could they be employees of Qatar Airlines? Qatar Airlines has stated that they will refund my money but to date I am still waiting."
You would think that Qatar would come down from the clouds and favor its earth-bound customers and their media representatives at least a few whiffs of information, but it doesn't look like that's likely to happen.