American Airlines ticket agent accused of half million dollar credit card fraud

A (now former) American Airlines ticket agent from San Jose airport has been arrested upon suspicion of a running a major credit card theft scam.

Micheline Johnson, pictured here, worked the airline ticket counter at Mineta San Jose International airport for American Airlines. As part of her job, she regularly dealt with passenger credit cards to pay for tickets, fees and other charges. Each time she was handed a credit card, she would make a copy of the data stored on the card and hand it back to the passenger.

Using special equipment, she then made replicas of the cards, and made purchases at Safeway stores in California, Nevada and Washington between 2007 and 2010. In total, she is accused of making at least 2,800 transactions on 350 credit cards, totaling over $480,000.

Using the cloned cards, she would purchase gift cards, then use those cards to buy electronics which she then sold on eBay.

Prosecutors say they do not know how she made copies of the cards, but her scam was uncovered when someone turned on her and notified Safeway. Unfortunately, none of the high-tech fraud protection systems in place at credit card companies were able to pinpoint the fraud to cards used at the airport, and if weren’t for the person that notified Safeway, this fraud could have gone undiscovered for many more years. Johnson had worked for American Airlines for ten years. She is now being charged with grand theft, possession of stolen property and identity theft. Bail was set at $1 million. If convicted, she faces up to twenty years in jail.

This ticket agent scam was reported the same day a travel agent was caught selling thousands of fake travel vouchers to unsuspecting customers – clearly not a good day for honest people.

[Photo: San Jose DA]

Michigan hotel guests victims of identity theft

Former guests at a Michigan hotel got a nasty surprise on their credit card statements this month. Around 150 guests at the Doherty Hotel and Convention Center in Clare, Michigan, found fraudulent charges on their credit card statements after staying at the hotel. Victims’ average fraudulent charges were around $2,500.

Authorities say they’re not sure whether the hotel’s system had been hacked or whether the cards were accessed by a criminal employee, but the hotel is cooperating with the investigation. This isn’t the first time a hotel has been targeted: LA’s Westin Bonaventure and the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, have both experienced similar crimes.

According to credit experts, hotel guests are at particularly high risk for identity theft, and travelers are encouraged to be extra vigilant when checking credit card statements while traveling and after.

[photo by Flickr user Andres Rueda]

Hotel employees nailed in $20 million airline ticket scam

The feds just threw down indictments against 38 people accused of pushing fraudulent airline tickets at hefty discounts. They were slashing between $100 and $200, usually, from the normal price of a (real) ticket. And at least two of them worked in hotels, where they were accused of swiping credit card and debit card information to keep the con afloat. Among the charges are: conspiracy, credit card theft and identity theft. The rings appear to have begun in 2001.

How did it work? In Los Angeles, according to USA Today:

The government’s 25-page indictment against Jason Burks and eight other defendants says that Raun Lauderdale Jr. was one of the people who would obtain stolen credit card and debit card information and sell it to Burks, who would then use it to fraudulently buy airline tickets. Lauderdale worked at an unidentified hotel in Long Beach, Calif. On one particular day in September 2009, Burks allegedly used a stolen American Express card number to buy $3,466.03 worth of airline tickets – an Alaska Airlines ticket from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and three US Airways tickets for travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans, records show. Prosecutors say this ring operated from July 25, 2007 to May 14, 2009.

And in Atlanta:

The government’s 31-page indictment against Steven James Palmer, based in Brooklyn, and nine other defendants based in cities such as Orlando, Los Angeles and Atlanta names another hotel worker. According to the document, Alexander Lewis, 25, of McDonough, Ga., stole credit card and debt card numbers from his jobs at unidentified Atlanta hotels. Lewis also went by an alias: “Mike Gotti,” the indictment says. Prosecutors say this ring operated between August 2008 and March 27, 2010.

The alleged scammers would pick up the tickets online with stolen credit card info and use text messages or e-mail to push discount codes to their customers, which could then be parlayed into boarding passes. To stay under the radar, the bookings were kept close to departure times. Advertising was kept to a minimum, and word of mouth was used to generate new “business.”

[photo by abardwell via Flickr]

San Antonio hotels involved in massive credit card theft

If you have spent a night in San Antonio recently, be sure to keep an eye on your credit card statements.

Information from 17,000 guests is reported to be involved in a large scale fraud with stolen receipts from 3 different hotels.

Authorities are declining to release the names of these hotels, pending their investigation, but a local newspaper identified one as the Emily Morgan Hotel.

So far, 7 people have been indicted on charges of identity theft and the possession of equipment to make or alter credit cards.

The whole thing probably boils down to criminals who worked at these hotels, and took printouts or copies of credit card receipts off premises with the sole purpose of using them for fraudulent purchases. The case even has some sort of tie to meth.

So, if you stayed in San Antonio, and used a credit card, be sure to keep an eye out for weird charges, and if you do happen to see something you did not authorize, contact your bank right away. In almost all cases, you won’t be liable for these fraudulent charges, but you may have some paperwork involved in proving your case.


Check out some of these weeeeeird hotels from around the world.

Best Western (Europe) becomes the victim of the largest data theft in the world (UPDATED)

The European operation of the Best Western hotel chain has become the victim of a massive cyber-theft attack. By placing a “keylogger” on a corporate computer connected to their reservations system, a whopping 8 million customer records were stolen. Included in the records are names, address, phone number, credit card numbers and employment information.

The records were stored for every single customer who stayed at one of 1300 European Best Western hotels since 2007. The Sunday Herald reports that the theft was carried out by an Indian hacker, who then put the information up for sale on an underground web site, operated by the Russian Mafia. The entire story sound like it was copied right out of a spy novel.

The whole thing is extremely embarrassing for Best Western, who have handed control of their European computer operations over to their American colleagues. According to a UK based Best Western spokesperson, the company is “taking appropriate action”. Of course, none of this will be of any use to people who have lost their information, and credit card companies might have no other option than to issue millions of new cards to victims of this theft.

If you stayed at a Best Western hotel in Europe in the past year, you may want to contact your credit card provider, and keep a close eye out for trasnactions you did not approve.

Source: Sunday Herald (via Slashdot), Image from Flickr.

UPDATE: Best Western have conducted an internal investigation and “found no evidence of 8 million stolen records” (PDF file). I’m sure time will tell whether this was all all elaborate hoax by an amateur hacker.