Fraudsters have been targeting travel agencies of all sizes with phishing emails to issue unauthorized ticketing schemes that can result in irrecoverable financial losses unless addressed immediately.

Unauthorized ticketing has been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are no signs of it slowing down. One reason for the increase is that hacking has been successfully redirected from company targets to accountholders themselves.

Whether travel agents work in a remote or office environment, they are the responsible parties and are liable for the financial consequences of ticketing fraud. Immediate and long-term safeguards can be implemented to help prevent ticketing fraud.

What is Unauthorized Ticketing?

Unauthorized ticketing is when a fraudster obtains an account holder’s credentials to access their GDS account and other applications. From there, the hacker will issue multiple tickets, usually of a higher value and quantity than typical transactions.

The most common unauthorized activity happens over the weekend when systems are not monitored or as close as during standard business hours. The tickets are often issued for same-day travel, making it difficult to void the transaction before travel occurs.

Unfortunately, the most vulnerable targets are small and midsize travel agencies. The cost of unauthorized tickets can be thousands of dollars. ARC’s fraud team has seen losses up to $150,000 and beyond. In extreme cases, agencies have gone out of business, and owners have had to file for bankruptcy.

How to Protect Your Agency

ARC’s Director, Revenue Integrity, Onboarding & Compliance, Cornelius Hattingh, is committed that “ARC and other travel-related organizations want to help protect agents and agencies from fraud. When we work together to combat unauthorized ticketing, we increase the likelihood of a positive outcome for agencies, airlines and those involved in fraud investigations and recovery efforts.”

Here are examples of actions agencies can implement to prevent unauthorized ticketing attacks:

  • Safeguard your IT environment by implementing policy and procedures such as updating passwords and login credentials every 30-90 days, requiring multifactor authorization and validating email senders and hyperlinks within an email before clicking and engaging (i.e., opening, forwarding and replying to emails).

  • If you receive a call or email from the ARC fraud team, respond immediately. Note that ARC’s fraud alert emails include a summary of the suspected fraud but never have hyperlinks.

  • Each GDS will have its own security and fraud guidelines; familiarize and apply their regulations.

  • Review ticketing queues and bookings daily, including weekends and holidays; validate that they are created for legitimate customers.

  • Look for tickets not typically issued by your agency, such as high dollar and international cash (at times credit) sales.

  • Train all agency personnel to take the necessary steps to protect access to their accounts and how to respond to suspicious activity.

  • Ask your GDS provider if they offer an app that allows agency owners and managers to turn off ticketing capability at the end of the day and turn it back on the following morning.

Recommendations for Unauthorized Ticketing Victims

Fraudsters are persistent and create ever-evolving tactics to infiltrate agency accounts. If you are a victim of unauthorized ticketing, there are steps you can take to limit your financial exposure:

  • Take immediate action. In most cases, there is a 24-hour void window. Your financial losses can be eliminated or reduced if tickets are voided within that period.

  • Immediately void the ticket(s) through your GDS to obtain an ESAC code.

  • Notify the affected Carrier.

  • Cancel the PNR (or return segments if the outbound leg has been used).

  • Contact your GDS to report compromised IDs, PCCs or passwords and ask for immediate assistance to prevent additional unauthorized ticketing or access.

  • Continue communicating with ARC, the affected airline(s) and your GDS for additional support.

Agents and agencies have a support network to help reduce risk and financial losses associated with unauthorized ticketing. Visit the support section of the ARC website to view our fraud prevention resources and on-demand webinars. Contact our revenue integrity team by calling 855.358.0393 or emailing