Ihsan Abdul Salam describes himself as a “loyal” Flight Center customer, booking tickets with the international travel company since 1995.
But when he went to a company branch in Vancouver to pick up tickets to Brazil that he had booked through an online consultant, he got a surprise: The $2,280 reservation didn’t exist.
He had been scammed by an imposter website, one of many the company says it has been trying to root out since last summer.
Flight Center says it has removed more than 200 fraudulent listings so far, with search results appearing in online searches for “Flight Centre” across Canada.
Salam searched Google Flight Center to book tickets to Sao Paulo to visit his girlfriend in September. He said he clicked on the first site that appeared and then spoke to one of his “travel advisors” on the phone, who took the reservation and payment from him.
But something seemed strange.
“It was very strange… they told me ‘don’t call anyone, we can send you the original ticket, just give us time,'” Salam said.
“I felt something was wrong.”
Salam said that from previous experience, Flight Center would email him a ticket as soon as he got off the phone with an advisor, but this time his ticket never arrived.
So he went to Flight Centre’s Kitsilano branch, where he received the bad news: the site was a scam and he wasn’t the first victim.
“I felt bad for all the people who have been in this situation,” Salam said.
Chadd Andre, executive vice-president of Flight Center Canada, said the company had noticed fraudulent listings appearing online since last summer.
Toronto-based Andre said he was at the Kitsilano branch to talk about educating customers about scam sites when he noticed Salam come in looking for help last year.
Andre said listening to customers’ experiences prompted his team to raise awareness about scammers.
Flight Center shared examples of fake websites. One is labeled “Flight Center,” not “Flight Center,” and features a blue and white color scheme, not the red and white used on the authentic site.
It’s unclear where the fake sites are located, and Andre said there are numerous “bad actors” involved, making it difficult to root them all out.
He said Flight Center and its legal team had been working with search engines, such as Google, to remove fake listings.
“But it seems that as quickly as we point out new listings, new ones appear,” Andre said.
Flight Center’s authentic website now includes a prominent warning about fakes.
Salam said he had to “swallow the pain” of paying for fake tickets, and still went to Brazil in October and managed to have a good time.
He said he planned to visit his family in Dubai this year.
“This time I will go to the office and see the people there,” Salam said.
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