Air Ticketing Fraud: Firm swindles Tk 50cr from customers
Travel agent Musa Mia Sagar bought 100 Dhaka-Dubai air tickets for Tk 40.14 lakh from airline ticketing company 24tkt.com at a discount between March 3 and April 24.
In May, when expats who bought some of those tickets from Unique Air Travel International, the travel agency Musa works for, they found that the tickets were no longer valid.
When the expats failed to board the flights, they put pressure on Musa, the travel agent who bought the tickets from 24tkt.com. Musa later found out that the company had fled with their money and earlier this month, filed a case against six people, including the owners and staffers of 24tkt.com, with Uttara West Police Station.
The Criminal Investigation Department of police found that the e-ticketing agency 24tkt has swindled small agencies and customers out of Tk 50 crore, Kamrul Ahsan, additional deputy inspector general of CID, told a press briefing at the CID headquarters in Malibagh yesterday.
Musa and the aforementioned passengers are, according to Kamrul, among around 2,000 people who were defrauded by 24tkt.com since 2019.
CID officials arrested Mizanur Rahman Sohel, one of the directors of the online ticketing platform, from Dhaka's Sadarghat area yesterday.
On Sunday, they arrested another director, Rakibul Hasan, from Chuadanga.
CID discovered that 24tkt.com used to buy air tickets from large travel agencies on credit and sell those to small agencies and customers for cash, the CID official said.
"At the airport, customers used to find that their tickets were invalid as 24tkt did not pay the large vendors for the tickets. That is how the online agency swindled money," said the CID official.
Small travel agents were lured to 24tkt as the latter offered discounts that were much more attractive than what they used to get from airliners, he said.
Talking to The Daily Star, travel agent Musa said when he contacted 24tkt owner Abdur Razzak about the matter, Razzak told him that it was a server problem.
But when Musa went to their office, he found it closed. Phone numbers of owners and directors were also found switched off. Their website and online travel agent (OTA) portal were also not accessible.
"We had to buy tickets for many customers at higher prices and even then, we could not serve many as their visas had expired. This is a huge loss for us as well," Musa said.
Musa said 24tkt.com used to buy tickets from some International Air Transport Association (IATA) agents.
"After 24tkt.com closed the business, their IATA vendors reclaimed their issued tickets as 24tkt.com owed them money," Musa said, adding that he contacted some other small travel agents and found that they had suffered similar fates.
Two other travel agents -- AKM Mahbubul Alam of Uni Fly Travels and Rakib of Universal Travel and Tours, are owed Tk 6.30 lakh and Tk 4.41 lakh respectively by 24tkt.com, according to the case statement.
CID official Kamrul Ahsan said they had taken steps to freeze the bank accounts of the online ticketing agency.
CID TO SEEK INTERPOL HELP TO BRING BACK RINGID OWNERS'
The CID will seek the help of Interpol to bring back Sharif Islam and Ayrin Islam, the Bangladeshi expatriates in Canada who own ringID, said Kamrul Ahsan.
The CID found recently that ringID had embezzled Tk 212 crore in three months.
Kamrul added that Bangladesh Bank authorities have blocked around Tk 200 crore in three bank accounts belonging to ringID. However, the amount embezzled is much more and the CID is investigating it, Kamrul said.
Meanwhile, CID arrested a youth -- Redwan Rahman, a ringID agent, in Kamrangirchar area of Dhaka on Sunday who had stolen over Tk 1 crore from around 600 people by persuading them to open ringID accounts.
Officials said Redwan has been a ringID user since 2018, but became an agent seven-eight months ago.
'30 E-COMMERCE PLATFORMS UNDER WATCH'
Talking at the press briefing yesterday, Imam Hossain, additional deputy inspector general of CID, said they have a list of around 60 e-commerce businesses and they are currently keeping watch on at least 30.
"We got reports of numerous victims of their fraudulence. Many are still waiting for refunds as the platforms did not deliver the ordered products. Some of them are preparing to file cases against them," the official said.
Meanwhile, the CID arrested six staff members, including the head of operations of two e-commerce platforms -- Tholay.com and WeCoom.com -- from Dhaka's Mirpur area on Sunday.
"The owner of both e-commerce platforms, Sakib Uddin, is still off the hook… He will be accused in the cases to be filed," Imam Hossain said, adding that the CID has information that Sakib is still in the country.
CID officials said they are yet to assess the amount the e-commerce platforms swindled from customers.