Police search travel agency in fraud probe
A Grand Junction travel agency is under investigation for allegations that it pocketed the extra cash after using customers’ money to buy airline tickets and then repurchasing the tickets at reduced rates, according to court records. DOWNLOAD WARRANT IN THE CASE.
Authorities are seeking information from recent customers of Travel Masters, 1133 Patterson Road, Suite 5, but officials with the Grand Junction Police Department on Friday would not say why it is investigating the company.
A search warrant affidavit filed Dec. 9 in court by Police Department detective Rob Faussone outlines allegations that the company, owned by 51-year-old Rodney Thompson, defrauded United Airlines of $340,139 between November 2003 and September 2009, according to the results of an audit by United Airlines.
A call to Travel Masters was not returned Friday, but a voice-mail message left on the business phone said the business of 16 years had closed “to pursue a new venture.”
According to the search warrant, Travel Masters would collect fees from customers for an airline flight and book the flight and then void the ticket within seven days. Travel agencies are required to book tickets and pay airlines within seven days of taking customers’ money.
“In this case, Travel Masters voided the ticket within seven days to avoid paying United and re-issued the ticket a few days before the scheduled travel date at a much reduced rate,” the warrant said. “... Travel Masters re-issued the tickets using legitimate United Airlines discount codes in a fraudulent manner or forced a computer override during the ticketing process to generate a reduced rate for the same flight originally purchased by the customer.”
Susan Weiler, a United Airlines ticket-fraud-control investigator, used an example of two Grand Junction passengers buying flights to Germany for a total fare of $24,457. Travel Masters used a computer override to force the fares at $258 per ticket, defrauding the airline of $23,941, the warrant said.
United Airlines revoked Travel Masters privileges in August, and Weiler said other airlines revoked Travel Masters’ privileges with the company, but she could not release the names of those airlines.
Other airlines, including Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Lufthansa Airlines, American Airways, have experienced the fraudulent use of discount codes from Travel Masters and further investigations are pending, the warrant said.
Every week a travel agency must submit a list of its ticket sales to the Airline Reporting Corp., which settles financial transactions between airlines and travel agencies. If the organization detects an error in a ticket price, it will alert the corresponding airline, which can issue the travel agency a bill. A travel agency can appeal the bill or remit a payment for the remaining cost.
Travel Masters did not dispute any invoices from United Airlines between November 2003 and September 2009, the search warrant said.
“This indicates to (Scott McIntosh, a ticket-fraud investigator with United) that Travel Masters is aware of the use of fraudulent fares and the remittance of unauthorized discounted air fares to United Airlines,” the warrant said.
Since April 1994, the people authorized to work as travel agents at Travel Masters included Donna M. Thompson and Rodney A. Thompson, and prior to 2007, the two were married, the warrant said.
United Airlines learned of possible fraudulent activity when a customer called the airline to complain about an international flight purchased through Travel Masters. According to the warrant, Travel Masters is being investigated for theft, forgery and computer crimes.