A cautionary tale: be careful when you search Google for an airline’s telephone number.
One of my Award Expert clients just got ripped off, big time. We had booked a trip for her in American Airlines + British Airways business class using her AA miles.
As you may know, advance seat assignments on British Airways are not free in business class. We had advised her this, but she must have wanted to double check directly with British Airways. Her only BA segments were intra-Europe segments.
Somehow, she called a “travel agency” named Air O Fly, thinking it was British Airways.
Looking up her reservation, they said:
“Oh madam, you are booked in economy class. I can upgrade you to business class and get you a seat for $500.”
She freaked out, thought Award Expert had ripped her off, and agreed to pay.
The agent emailed her a credit card authorization form via DocuSign, which she promptly signed. Her credit card was charged $500.
Look at this document:
She later received an email directly from British Airways with her business class seat assignments…and a charge of $136 for two seats from London to Warsaw and Prague to London.
The remaining $364 was charged in two transactions: one for $200, the other for $164.
Following Up with the Scam Artists
As near as I can tell, Air O Fly (or Airofly LCC) is/was a California-based company. The DocuSign document, listed a Bellflower, CA address:
The IP address the DocuSign document is inconclusive:
I looked up the business and found it was allegedly dissolved in late 2016. The owner’s name is/was Rene Tolentino.
A man named Steven Christopher Strawbridge, in his 20s, is currently at the business address according to the White Pages.
But the Facebook page (same logo and telephone number) gives the impression this is an Indian company still in operation.
I called them back immediately at the number above.
ME: Is this British Airways?
AGENT (after a pause…): Yes.
[the agent had a strong Indian accent]
ME: You scammed a friend of mine earlier today with seat assignments on British Airways.
ME: You represented yourself as British Airways, as you just did now, lied to her about being seated in coach, then charged her credit card $500 for an “upgrade” she already had. You will be shutdown.
AGENT: Oh sir, we will refund her money. Don’t worry. Do you have a reference number?
ME: Yes [the DocuSign document had an Airofly reference number, which I provided to the agent].
AGENT: Thank you sir. Please do not call the police. We will refund the money.
ME: I expect to see the refund tomorrow.
AGENT: Don’t worry sir.
The fraud is not (necessarily) in the exorbitant “service fee” for assigning a seat on British Airways. The fraud is that this company represented itself as British Airways and preyed upon a gullible senior citizen. This company lied to her that she was seated in economy class.
If you wonder how someone can be so stupid, don’t be: this sort of thing happens all the time.
This issue is beyond my expertise of the law. Any suggestions on what to do next? Call the LA County Sheriff’s Department?
I’ll keep you updated you on whether the client receives a credit card refund.
UPDATE: The client received her money back.