Yes Virginia, Scammers DO Use Stolen Credit Cards To Buy Airline Tickets

After reading some of the incredulous comments on, “Easy For Fraudsters To Fool E-Ticket Kiosks,” we asked a former identity thief whether fraudsters ever actually used stolen credit cards for airline tickets. He said:

Yes, people card them and yes its very risky, however people have made a killing doing it.




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  1. JustAGuy2 says:

    So, you asked “a former identity thief” and he said that people do it. OK, how many people? How many tickets? If you’re claiming that we should make it a lot harder to check in at the airport, you’ve got to have some credible data to back it up.

    Also, this is Consumerist, not CreditCardCompanyist. Why should it be more of a hassle for ME to check in at the airport, just so that the credit card company’s loss (which remains undefined, since there’s no actual data) is reduced. If someone steals my wallet and charges a bunch of plane tix, it’s my credit card company’s problem, not mine.

  2. smith186 says:

    @JustAGuy2: Actually, it is very much your problem, because you – and the rest of us – end up paying for it in the end. You think the credit card company pays for it? No, they do a chargeback to the retailer, and charge an additional fee on top of it. You think the retailer eats the cost? No, they make it up by raising the cost for everyone to compensate.

    Fraud hurts all legitimate consumers. There’s no free ride from a magical and mysterious corporation.

  3. Doc Benway says:

    Ok Ben. I apologize. I am big enough to admit it when I am wrong. In fact, I did a bit of further research and found the following document from Deloitte,1014,sid%253D1… I am still surprised because I do work in the industry and most of the fraud I encounter is the usual attempts to purchase merchandise. I personally have never seen an attempt to buy airline tickets.

    Regardless, I apologize.

  4. Doc Benway says:

    Deloitte Article mentioned above.

  5. iMike says:

    Much of the sentiment in the other comment thread was not that it’s impossible or unheard of to buy airline tickets with a stolen card, but that it is a high risk theft. Your source confirmed that.

    That said, how do they “make a killing” doing that? Assuming that they’re booking tickets for someone else in exchange for cash?

  6. Ben Popken says:

    @ytsirklin: Nice find, thanks. Here’s the pertinent passages for those not wanting to jump:

    23 April 2007-Airline fraud is costing the industry over US$600 million a year…

    Deloitte found the average airline loses US$3 million a year to fraud, with low cost carriers being the hardest hit.

    The average number of fraud cases for the low cost carriers was over 1,000 a year, compared with around 300 for the network carriers.

    …More than a third of airlines have been hit by credit card fraud, which accounts for around 60 percent of all external fraud-related losses. Credit card fraud alone is costing airlines an average of US$1 million a year. Low cost carriers were found to have the highest credit card fraud losses, due in part to the high number of airline tickets they sell online.

  7. JustAGuy2 says:

    Those fraud numbers are TINY! According to that survey, credit card fraud is about $1 million/airline/year. United’s annual revenue is $20 BILLION.

    Certainly, we want to reduce fraud, but it’s all about the costs/hassle incurred, and this seems to be an area where there’s just no bang for the buck.

  8. Erskine says:

    Nice job.

  9. Falconfire says:

    @iMike: very easy, every one of those tickets bought is money that doesnt have to be paid back since the credit card is stolen and the user is usually not responsible for it.

    so If say I bought two tickets to Florida (which actually I am) and used a stolen card, it would cost me nothing for a 600 dollars chip.

  10. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Falconfire: I agree with iMike, that’s not making money; it’s traveling for free.

  11. Falconfire says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Thats making money. Its the same damn thing as stealing 600 bucks (thus “making money” by your jaded view) and spending it on the tickets.

  12. nweaver says:

    Also, guys…

    Unless the airline is completely full, the marginal cost of a seat being full or empty is low. So even when the fraud does occur (and it is VERY high risk, the credit card company’s algorithms are pretty good at detecting this) and the airline gets stuck eating thecost, the cost they eat ends up being far less than the ticket purchase price unless the flight was 100% full.

  13. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Falconfire: Yes, I agree that it’s equivalent to stealing $600 and spending it on airline tickets. It is not the same thing as having an extra $600 in your wallet unless you’d otherwise be spending the $600 anyway. And in order to be “making a killing” the thieves would have to be spending a killing on airline tickets every year as it is. Which is possible, but not a given.

  14. slapstick says:


  15. slapstick says:

    Wow, whoops. Wouldn’t it be possible for thieves to purchase tickets and sell them to someone else for a discounted price? If you had people who were on a no-fly list or deal only in cash, etc. and needed a ticket and fake ID to match…I dunno, I’m not a criminal mastermind, but I’m sure you could have a pretty sweet little gig set up.

    It’s not like airports have real security anyway.

  16. swalve says:

    Ah. So it’s not stealing if the marginal cost for the victim is low? Nice ethics.

    Finally, if one third of the airlines have been “hit” by fraud, that means two thirds haven’t. What are they doing to solve the problem?

  17. ladycrumpet says:

    Besides the identity theft/fraud angle, I’m also concerned about this from a security standpoint. What if person flying with a ticket bought with your credit card turns out to be more than an identity thief? This is the kind of thing that the TSA needs to focus on, as opposed to seizing my mascara for the sake of security.

  18. JustAGuy2 says:


    That’s not a security risk, assuming they’ve gone through the screening checkpoint. ID checking is a complete and total waste of time. Screen passengers properly (i.e. look for true weapons, not 3.5oz bottles of shampoo or magical terror shoes) and be done with it.

  19. threeoutside says:

    I don’t know whether the airline check-in kiosk was involved, but I do know that someone stole my late husband’s Capitol One credit card number about two months after he died last October, and ran up over $18,000 forth of charges on it, including at least two international airline flights. I didn’t know anything about it until a Capitol One agent called me in February to try to get paid. Evidently he believed in my innocence after about a half hour conversation, because I haven’t heard anything more from them. However, when I checked my husband’s credit rating online, there that mind-boggling charge was. I’m in the process of trying to get it expunged from his record, because he worked like a dog all his life to have good credit, and except for that fraudulent charge, it was *perfect*. Fortunately for me, my name was not on that card so my credit is not affected.

    I have no idea how the scum got his credit card number, but I do know it’s obvious if you look at the history (not to mention his death certificate and the dates of the charges) that some filthy criminal was doing it.

  20. ladycrumpet says:

    @JustAGuy2: Yeah, that’s true. I was thinking was more along the lines that if someone is willing to use identity theft to get plane tickets, maybe they’re up to other criminal activity as well.