These sites attract customers by undercutting airline ticket prices offered elsewhere. They capture your credit card information, including account number, expiration date, and CVV (an anti-fraud security feature
on credit cards). The customer receives a message stating that the credit card transaction has been declined, followed by instructions to wire funds for payment of the tickets.
Origins: The advent of the World Wide Web has proved a boon for travelers: now consumers can not only plan their own itineraries and purchase tickets for
air travel without having to deal with travel agents or airline reservation personnel, they can take advantage of comparison-pricing search tools to quickly find the very cheapest fares. Unfortunately, now ticket buyers aren't always aware of just whom they're dealing with, or how reputable they are.
Although we don't know the provenance of the warning quoted above, which alerts consumers to various scam airline ticketing web sites (we've seen versions credited to US-CERT, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team; CIRT, the Department of Commerce's Computer Incident Response Team; the Department of Homeland Security's "National Cyber Security Division Operations"; the Maryland Attorney General's office; and a generic "federal agency"), we have seen plenty of complaints about the sites it lists.
Web users have reported similar experiences about the ticketing sites at submitprice.net, busysky.net, cheapclouds.com: they attempted to purchase tickets from these sites using credit cards, received error messages indicating that their cards could not be processed, and were then told that due to technical problems they needed to submit payment via Western Union:
After investigation of the problems encountered by our customers today it seems that the payment gateway
we are using is not capable to meet our demand and is no longer processing our orders. We are making
progress in signing new merchant contract with one of the available payment gateways but they all require
fat contracts and it will take a while before everything is set up and working. All new requests are put on hold and we want to clear all currently not-paid duties (users that have agreed to our terms) via the only acceptable option I've found — the Western Union system. They offer secure and high privacy online credit card payments.
This should immediately raise a red flag, because the consumer who submit funds in this manner has provided the recipient with both valid credit card information and payment in a form that is not easily recoverable: a potential double-whammy rip-off. Although we haven't yet come across any reports from consumers who experienced unauthorized charges on their credit cards after ordering tickets
through one of these sites, the links provided above include plenty of first-hand accounts from users who sent payment but never received the promised tickets (or found their reservations mysteriously canceled). Moreover, many consumers noted that despite the multiplicity of domain names used (e.g., aircentral.net busysky.net, crazytickets.net, happyticket.net, bookingsaver.com, submityourprice.com, cheapclouds.com), when they tried to rectify problems with their purchases they all ended up calling the same phone number and dealing with the same person, located in Bulgaria. (One can also find scattered accounts from supposedly satisfied customers of these sites, but it's possible they were simply posted by shills trying to reassure potential victims that the sites are legitimate.)
Fortunately, many users seem to have been savvy enough to realize that something was amiss with these sites and stopped short of submitting their credit card information to them, canceled their cards after attempting to purchase tickets through these sites, or declined to follow the instructions to submit payment through Western Union.
The principle of caveat emptor applies just as much buying airline tickets on-line as to any other purchase: if a deal seems too good to be true, there's probably a catch.