Trade associations are warning of a major threat to shippers from a growing army of scammers seeking to exploit demand for air freight services. The scams, which became prevalent during the PPE rush as governments and health care providers around the world urgently sought capacity, have increased as shippers look to private charter flights to keep their supply chains moving.
“COVID-19 has changed the face of air travel,” says Dave Edwards , chief executive at the Air Charter Association (ACA). “As commercial airlines have been forced to cut back services and raise their fares, the private jet charter industry has provided a lifeline to organizations, businesses, and individuals who have needed to travel for emergencies, medical and humanitarian reasons, or for vital business missions… Simultaneously, there has been an rise in attempts by fraudsters to steal money from unsuspecting [shippers and] travelers.”
The ACA and the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) have reported the scammers are pretending to be private charter providers and are creating fake websites, using images, texts, registrations, and even contracts stolen from legitimate websites. The unsuspecting customer finds a “bargain” on the fake websites, accepts the offer, pays the deposit, and then waits for the contract that never arrives because the aircraft never existed.
In many cases, these scammers are paying significant amounts of money to get high Google search engine ratings to funnel unsuspecting customers to their fake websites, so consumers should not assume high placement in search engines confers legitimacy. There have also been reports of large numbers of offers for fake aircraft charters on LinkedIn, with one “broker” offering a 747-200F for $6,700 per block hour and a 747-400F at $7,900.
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) also reported a wave of uncertified planes being illegally chartered. Ryan Waguespack, a senior vice president at NATA, noted that many of the illegal charters are preying on newcomers who tend to shop by price, as they would for a commercial flight, rather than ensuring the aircraft is well maintained and the pilots are properly certified.
Advice for Air Charterers
- Practice due diligence. Research any new company that you are thinking about doing business with. Do they have a web presence? How long have they been in business? Are the relatively new? Be wary of anyone without a web presence, lack a company email domain, or have no trading history. Don’t assume high placement in search results ensure legitimacy.
- Check the credibility of air charter operators or brokers utilizing search tools provided by trusted aviation audit firms and associations.
- National Air Charter Association (NATA): Avoid Illegal Charter
- Air Charter Association (ACA) Registered Broker Members Directory
- European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) Members Directory
- ARGUS Certified Brokers or Operators or confirm the legitimacy of a charter operator and crew with TripCheq
- Wyvern Registered Brokers
- Carefully check email addresses. Many scammers are setting up fake domains that sound like very well-known companies by adding an extra letter to the domain name or using email addresses that are one letter different than contacts you may know. Are they using a Gmail or Hotmail email account? If so, it is highly unlikely to be legitimate or the company is too cheap to bother to set up a domain.
- Check to make sure there is a phone number and that it works.
- Ask for the registration number of the aircraft and a Part 135 certificate. If they offer an excuse about why they can’t provide the requested information, chances are you are being scammed. Visit NATA’s website above to cross-reference tail numbers with certifications.
- Do not provide payment details to anyone you are not familiar with.
- Ask for references. Personally call to check references rather than using email, which can easily be forwarded to another account.
- Request paperwork upfront. Don’t sign anything or pay a deposit until all the required paperwork has been provided. Review contract details with a critical eye – check that the details make sense, and there are no typos, misspellings, or other clues that the document could be illegitimate. Also be sure to verify banking details prior to sending in deposits or payments.
- Work with a freight forwarder or broker who can vet individual operators.
- Finally, remember the old adage – if an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.
- The LOADSTAR, Warning to air charterers: phantom freighter scams on the rise
- FlightGlobal, Online fraudsters target business aircraft charter market
- Robb Report, As Private Jet Charters Rise Amid Covid, So Do Offers for Fake and Illegal Flights
- Wing Aviation, ACA and EBAA Warn of Online Charter Fraud