Tracking Troublesome Travelers

Preventing Travel Fraudsters from Flying into the Sunset

By By Karl Krueger, CFE

The new communications tools of the information age haven’t replaced business and leisure travel. Despite e-mails and videoconferences, air travel continues to grow. Airplanes carry both good and bad passengers and all of their airline transactions are stored in computers of the airlines and their reservation systems. Let’s review how fraud examiners can inspect air travel records to find incriminating evidence that can help nail flying fraudsters.

You can obtain reservation details, ticket copies, or simple confirmation of electronic ticketing from your corporate travel agent or internal department, and frequent flyer (FF) information from airlines’ customer service departments. The airlines may cooperate with you, they may want to clear their actions with their legal staffs, or they may first want to speak to your attorneys. You may need to use a specific release signed by the traveler, courts orders, subpoenas, or search warrants. (In the United States, at the least, you’ll have to abide by the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.)

Tips on fraudulent activity can come from internal or external travel agencies, internal auditors or accountants, or from colleagues who have their suspicions.

Frequent Flier Records 

For the past 20 years, FF awards have become a staple of airline marketing. They boost customer loyalty for little cost to the airlines and identify and market those who fly a lot at full price fares. The airline systems already record who is on the plane. (However, this information isn’t always trustworthy. See the sidebar, “Miles and Much More,” at the end of this article. A FF system just adds FF numbers and keeps account of the accumulated miles. Since passengers prefer to use the same airline to maximize their FF credits, virtually every flight is noted. And passengers usually monitor the airline FF statements to make sure that all flights are credited to their award totals. Therefore, FF records contain a fairly dependable indication of actual travel and are more reliable than ticket copies which may have several changes in routing and flight times.

If the airlines cooperate, then FF information is available. Smart employers help their own investigations by including an audit clause and legal release into the travel expense reports that employees are required to sign, such as this:

“Travel expenses are subject to audit by [organization name] or its representatives, and I authorize release to [organization name] of any relevant information form any source such as airline records etc.” 

With such a release, you now need the traveler’s FF number for the airline records you want to probe. You obtain the FF number from ticket copies or from your company’s travel department records where it’s kept as part of the traveler’s profile. Two avenues open up for finding information from the FF records you obtain:

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