Forged tickets (this one's at bottom) are hard to spot. Although they currently comprise a small percentage of tickets issued each year, the frequency of fakes is increasing
Airline ticket theft a growing problem
Los Angeles identified as base of crime ring
January 1, 1999
Web posted at: 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT)
From CNN Correspondent Jennifer Auther
(CNN) -- You might think of freeway shootings or street muggings when you think of crime in Los Angeles, but this holiday season has seen an increase in a different kind of robbery: hold-ups at travel agencies
Los Angeles has seen a total of 15 armed robberies at area travel agencies during the season. Julie Zamile's travel agency was burglarized before the holidays, last October.
"They took blank ticket stock, the unprinted ticket stock," Zamile said.
Detective Ron Ponzi of the Los Angeles Police Department explained the attraction of airline tickets for thieves: "It's like a blank money order. You can fill it out for almost any amount you want, and sell the ticket -- and cash is pure profit."
"People flying on stolen tickets could be anybody. They could be a regular consumer. They could be a terrorist"
---Julie Zamile, travel agent
Unsuspecting customers may buy stolen tickets. Police say they can't arrest the ticket holder unless the holder is aware that their ticket was stolen.
Of the 1.2 billion blank tickets issued to travel agents nationwide in 1997, about 212,000 were reported stolen, lost or misappropriated. That's a small percentage, but it represents a growing problem.
Travel agencies are approved by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC). In a recent memo, ARC's director of field investigations identified Los Angeles as the base of an underground crime ring.
ARC's James Manning wrote: "We believe that most of these stolen tickets are immediately shipped to Los Angeles and then redistributed from that point all over the world."
Zamile said theft introduces an element of danger.
"People flying on stolen tickets could be anybody. They could be a regular consumer. They could be a terrorist," she said.
For that reason, the issue of ticket theft was brought up earlier this year during congressional hearings on airline safety.
George Hudson, a Chicago travel agent, followed those hearings closely. Last year, Hudson was a victim of a burglary. Now, he is being held liable by airlines for almost $3 million in stolen tickets.
Hudson is suing, saying that a quick stock number check by airport agents would identify stolen tickets. "They destroyed my livelihood. They caused a severe embarrassment and they brought a business to a full stop," he said.
Hudson warns the consumer to question the authenticity of airline tickets if the seller wants only cash, or if the tickets are personally delivered.