Ihsan Abdul Salam describes himself as a “loyal” Flight Center customer, having booked tickets with the international travel agency since 1995.
But when he went to the company’s Vancouver branch to pick up his ticket to Brazil, which he had booked online through a consultant, he was shocked. The $2,280 reservation didn’t exist.
He was fooled by a fake website, and the company has been working to eradicate it since last summer.
Flight Center says it has removed more than 200 fraudulent listings to date, with the results appearing in online searches for “Flight Center” across Canada.
Salam booked a ticket to Sao Paulo on Google Flight Center to visit his girlfriend in September. He said he clicked on the first site that appeared, then spoke to one of the “travel consultants” over the phone and received the reservation and payment.
But something seemed strange.
“It was very strange… They said, ‘Please don’t call anyone. Please give us your time so we can send you the original tickets,'” Salam said.
“I felt something was wrong.”
Salam said from past experience that as soon as he hangs up with the consultant, Flight Center sends him an email with tickets, but this time he never received them.
So he went to the Kitsilano branch of Flight Center, where he received the bad news. The site was a scam and he was not the first victim.
“I felt sorry for all the people who were put in this situation,” Salam said.
Chad Andre, executive vice-president of the Canadian Aviation Center, said the company had been aware of fraudulent listings appearing online since last summer.
Andre, who is based in Toronto, said he happened to be at the Kitsilano branch last year to discuss educating customers about fraudulent sites when he noticed Salam come into the store asking for help.
Andre said hearing customer stories inspired his team to raise awareness about scammers.
Flight Center shared an example of a fake website. One is labeled “Flight Center” instead of “Flight Center” and features a blue and white color scheme rather than the red and white used on the authentic site.
It is unclear where the fake sites are based, and Andre said there are many “malicious actors” involved and it will be difficult to eradicate them all.
He said Flight Center and its legal team are working with search engines such as Google to remove fake listings.
“But we seem to be able to see new listings coming up just as quickly as we flag them,” Andre says.
The real Flight Center website now features a prominent fake warning.
Salam said he had to “swallow the pain” of paying for fake tickets, but still managed to go to Brazil in October and have a good time.
He said he plans to visit his family in Dubai this year.
“Now I go to the office and meet the people there,” Salam said.