UAE: Airline, booking service scams intensify during the summer holiday season

As travel and tourism markets witness a boom, cyber security experts report rise in fake deals


Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Tue 26 Jul 2022, 6:30 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Jul 2022, 7:09 PM

As UAE enters peak summer vacation season, inbound and outbound passengers from the Emirates are looking for exciting and affordable places to travel. According to travel experts the demand for economical places to stay and reasonably priced flights has soared.

However, as the travel and tourism markets witness a boom, cyber security experts report a rise in scammers trying to rip off eager travellers. Top researchers and experts from Kaspersky, a multinational cybersecurity and antivirus provider, have observed intensified scamming activities, with numerous phishing pages distributed under the guise of airline and booking services.

What are fake ticket aggregators?

Most trips start with a plane or train ticket, and travel enthusiasts are often interested in getting their hands on a bargain, said Mikhail Sytnik, a security expert at Kaspersky.

“We have seen numerous fake websites claiming to offer users the chance to buy aeroplane tickets at cheaper costs. Such websites are usually well-made phishing pages that mimic famous airline services and air-ticket aggregators,” said Sytnik.

“Some of these websites even display the details of real flights, with experienced phishers sending search requests to flight aggregators and displaying the information received from them,” he explained.

However, instead of delivering on promised flight tickets, they keep the traveller's money and use personal information for malicious purposes.

Fake lotteries for discounted tickets

“Plenty of fake pages are attempting to lure travellers with airline ticket draws, lotteries and gift cards. Users are offered the opportunity to take a small survey and enter their details in exchange for a generous discount on a flight ticket,” explained Sytnik.

“As with many other offers that seem too good to be true, such websites end up being phishing sites, collecting victims’ personal information and card details,” he added. The survey usually ends with a request to distribute the site among friends to receive the prize. In such cases, cybercriminals are using the victims themselves as a tool for spreading the scam further.

“A link sent by people you know seems more trustworthy than one from a stranger. If the user follows the link and tries to get their prize, they often find they need to pay a commission or fee first. After this money is paid, the cybercriminals disappear – without rewarding the user,” stated Sytnik.

Fake rentals

Another popular tactic used to scam travellers is by using fake rental services. One example includes offering a luxury two-bedroom apartment close to the centre of a European capital for just €500 a month.

"Another appealing offer is for the rental of an entire four-bedroom house with a pool and fireplace for only €1,000 for a whole month.” The reviews describe a fantastic vacation and hospitable hosts. This encourages users to pay for their month-long stay. Still, they end up sending their money to fraudsters,” he added.

“Planning a vacation is not easy. People can spend weeks, even months, looking for the perfect place to stay and the tickets to get them there. Fraudsters use this to lure users that have grown tired of searching for great deals. After two years of flight restrictions imposed by the pandemic, travelling is back. Yet, so are travel scams – with intensified scamming activity targeting users through fake booking and rental services,” said Sytnik.

“Such attacks are preventable, which is why we urge users to be sceptical about overly generous offers. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he stated.


How to keep oneself protected while planning a vacation:

— Carefully look at the address bar before entering sensitive information, such as your login details and password. If something is wrong with the URL (i.e. spelling, it doesn’t look like the original, or it uses some special symbols instead of letters), don’t enter anything on the site. If in doubt, check the site's certificate by clicking on the lock icon left of the URL.

— Only book your stay and tickets through trusted providers' websites. Ideally, type the address of their website manually in the address bar.

— Not clicking on links from unknown sources (emails, messaging apps or social networks).

— Visiting the business’ official website if you see a giveaway offered in email or on social media by a travel company or an airline to confirm the giveaway exists. You should also carefully check the links the giveaway ad leads you to.

— Using a good security solution that can protect you from spam emails and phishing attacks

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