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(Scroll down for video) Ten people were arrested on charges of theft after being caught selling canceled airplane tickets to unsuspecting customers, prosecutors in New York said.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the indictment of 10 individuals connected to a commercial travel scam in which the defendants, using credit card information obtained illegally, were able to steal more than $1 million from approximately 200 victims.
As a result, this fraudulent activity disrupted many victims’ long-planned international travel, in some cases preventing them from attending weddings or visiting sick family members.
The defendants are each charged in an indictment in New York State Supreme Court, with varying counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Identity Theft in the First Degree, and Scheme to Defraud, among other charges.
“During the holiday season when so many people are traveling to visit their families at great personal expense, it is especially important to be on high alert for scam artists and cybercriminals,” warned District Attorney Vance.
“This alleged scheme left a pregnant woman stranded during a multi-part trip, forced relatives to miss a family wedding abroad, and made it impossible for a son to visit his cancer-stricken father in India. I encourage individuals to report this type of fraud by calling my Cybercrime & Identity Theft Hotline at 212-335-9600,” he added.
According to the police investigation, the defendants are accused of operating a business involving multiple incorporated travel agencies — including Bombay Travel and Tours, Raj Travel, Gandhi Travel, Patel Travel and Maha Guru Travel — and several bank accounts that were fraudulently opened in the name of the aforementioned travel agencies, using falsified passports and licenses.
The defendants placed advertisements in predominantly Indian-American publications throughout the U.S., and purported to offer competitively priced tickets to and from popular destinations in India.
Travelers seeking assistance with arrangements were instructed to provide names, passport numbers, and flight information, and deposit payment checks directly into bank accounts controlled by the defendants.
However, in lieu of using customers’ checks to pay for tickets, the defendants pocketed the money and instead used stolen credit card information — including that of American Express, Citibank, and Discover card holders — to buy the tickets that were later sent to their customers.
When travelers arrived at the airport for their scheduled trips, many were informed that their tickets had been cancelled, or that they would not be able to travel using the illegally purchased tickets, for which they had already paid thousands of dollars to the defendants.
Among others, victims of the travel scam included a woman who was seven-months pregnant and unable to complete a leg of her scheduled trip, family members who were not able to attend a relative’s wedding, and an individual who was prevented from visiting a sick father in India.