Free plane ticket scam

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What would you say if I told you how to get free tickets from Easyjet and Ryanair? You’d jump at the chance, wouldn’t you? Especially if I explained that all you have to do is go to the airlines’ websites, answer four simple questions and then share the amazing promotion with 15 friends who are on WhatsApp. But is there a catch? Of course there is!

These Easyjet and Ryanair scams are what’s known as ‘IDN homograph-based phishing scams’. A homograph is a word that looks the same as another word but has a different meaning and the web addresses for these scam sites work in the same way, by substituting one of the characters in the address for a character that looks very similar in the hope that you won’t notice.

The sites themselves are reasonably plausible, use the right logos and brand colours, and feature what appear to be testimonials from happy customers, so unless you look carefully you probably wouldn’t notice they’re fake. This is especially true because they’re optimised for mobile and potential victims are most likely to view them on their phones.

According to Farsight Security, which provides intelligence on Internet threats and first reported the scams, instead of the promised free tickets, consumers who fall for the ruse are then subjected to what’s called a bait-and-switch scam. The way this works is that customers are attracted by low-priced – or in this case free – goods (the bait), but when they go to claim those goods they are suddenly asked to pay a higher price, often in the form of a ‘release fee’ (the switch).

Farsight’s assumption is that once someone has answered the questions and referred the scam to 15 friends, they are then directed to another site which asks for their credit card details. Of those who have come this far, some will certainly abandon the process at this stage, probably because they don’t see why they should pay for something they thought was going to be free.

However, others will believe that it’s worth paying the fee, perhaps because it’s considerably less than the cost of the plane tickets they’re being promised. Sadly, they will not be flying off to foreign climes, though, because they won’t receive so much as a parking ticket.

So what advice can I give? Exercise caution and check any web address really carefully. Google the company concerned to find its real web address and make a comparison. Don’t pay to claim a prize like this and, if you do inadvertently share a fake promotion with your contacts, it’s only fair to follow up and tell them that you’ve realised it was a scam. Remember, it’s not something to be embarrassed about. As I say, scams like this can look quite plausible.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador. 

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