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Passengers fall victim to fraudulent ticket agents in Vietnam’s post-Tet travel rush

Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 10:20 GMT+7
Passengers fall victim to fraudulent ticket agents in Vietnam’s post-Tet travel rush
Passengers crowd a Vietnam Airlines ticket booth at Da Nang International Airport on the evening of February 10, 2019. Photo: Cong Trung / Tuoi Tre

Flights back to Ho Chi Minh City after a long holiday celebrating the Lunar New Year, or Tet, for many people in the central city of Da Nang turned out to be a nightmare as their bookings made through ticket agents for the return services happened to be invalid.

As Vietnam enjoyed a nine-day Tet break that ended on Sunday, people in big cities returned to their hometowns to celebrate the holiday with their family.

The homecoming flights were smooth for several passengers who booked round trip tickets for the Ho Chi Minh City - Da Nang service through ticket agents.

But as they arrived at Da Nang International Airport for the return legs back to Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday, the passengers were stunned to learn that what the agents gave them were invalid ticket numbers that were not eligible for boarding.

The victims told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that airport attendants informed them that their names were “not in the booking system” when they came for check-in at the Da Nang airport, the flight hub of central Vietnam, on the last day of the official holiday.

Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, whose hometown is in the central province of Quang Nam, said she bought round tickets of Vietnam Airlines for her family of three from an agent for nearly VND20 million (US$860) two months before Tet.

The woman did take a cautious step to call the flag carrier to make sure the tickets she had fully paid for were genuine.

Ha and her family were reassured as they had no problem flying to Da Nang from Ho Chi Minh City. Little did they know that trouble awaited them on their return flight.

As they checked in for the Ho Chi Minh City-bound flight on Sunday, Ha was told that no bookings existed for her family members

“The airline rejected our check-in because our names were not in the system and told us that the flight agent had completed the refund [for bookings of their return trip],” Ha told Tuoi Tre.

It appeared that the agent did make round trip bookings for Ha’s family, and somehow canceled their second leg tickets to get a refund without letting them know.

Passengers wait at Da Nang International Airport in the evening of February 10, 2019. Photo: Cong Trung / Tuoi Tre
Passengers wait at Da Nang International Airport on the evening of February 10, 2019. Photo: Cong Trung / Tuoi Tre

Several passengers at Da Nang International Airport were in the same situation and had no choice but to buy the last-minute tickets to be able to fly to Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday, they told Tuoi Tre.

“But the airline representatives at the airport told us tickets for Ho Chi Minh City flights had already sold out in the morning,” Ha said.

According to a Vietnam Airlines representative, dishonest agents setting up temporary websites to sell airline tickets during such high-demand travel seasons as Tet is not something unheard of before.

“The fraudulent business would emerge every Tet,” he said.

“After receiving payments from customers, these cunning agents disable their phone numbers and shut down the websites so fooled buyers would not be able to contact them.”

Normally, buyers will receive a reservation code for their flight after booking, even before they make payment. The reservation code is only deemed valid if payment is made within 24 hours from the time of booking.

Thang, an air ticket agent in Ho Chi Minh City, said that some small resellers often take advantage of this mechanism to deceive customers.

The agents will show customers the reservation codes to ask for their payments, but this does not necessarily mean they will transfer the money to the airline to complete the ticket booking process, according to Thang.

“After receiving money from customers, the dishonest agents only have to cancel the bookings to finish the scam,” he said.

In other cases, the resellers do pay airline companies and issue tickets to customers, but they then return or cancel those tickets behind customers’ backs. The scammers can take a full refund, or only have to pay a small fee for the returning and cancelation process.

“Passengers should only buy tickets on official websites, from agents, and through ticket offices and ask for invoices for their bookings to avoid buying ‘fake’ or overcharged tickets,” the Vietnam Airlines representative advised.

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