Scammers and malware purveyors are always looking for ways to entice online users into following web links that will lead those victims into the traps set for them, and offers of free airline tickets are prime bait in that pursuit of prey. Airline tickets are something nearly everyone uses and have considerable value, but their non-material nature and the fact that they’re not tremendously expensive (compared to, say, a new car) makes it seem plausible to the public that they’re something a business might actually be giving away for free as part of an advertising promotion. The name of Southwest Airlines, a major U.S. airline which is also the world’s largest low-cost carrier, has frequently been invoked in various online “free ticket” giveaway scams in recent years.
The primary type of free ticket fraud is the “sweepstakes scam,” which intended to lure victims into completing numerous surveys, disclosing a good deal of personal information, and then agreeing to sign up for costly, difficult-to-cancel “Reward Offers” hidden in the fine print. The scammers spread links via e-mail and Facebook that purport to offer a pair of free air travel tickets on Southwest Airlines to those who follow those links:
These web pages (which are not operated or sponsored by Southwest Airlines) typically ask the unwary to click what appear to be Facebook “share” buttons and post comments to the scammer’s site (which is really a ruse to dupe users into spreading the scam by sharing it with all of their Facebook friends). Those who follow such instructions are then led into a set of pages prompting them to input a fair amount of personal information (including name, age, address, and phone numbers), complete a lengthy series of surveys, and finally sign up (and commit to paying) for at least two “Reward Offers” (e.g., Netflix subscriptions, credit report monitoring services, prepaid credit cards):
Pursuant to the Terms & Conditions, you are required to complete 2 of the Reward Offers from the above. You will need to meet all of the terms and conditions to qualify for the shipment of the reward. For credit card offers, you must activate your card by making a purchase, transferring a balance, or making a cash advance. For loan offers you must close and fund the loan. For home security and satellite tv offers you must have the product installed. You may not cancel your participation in more than a total of 2 Reward Offers within 30 days of any Reward Offer Sign-Up Date as outlined in the Terms & Conditions (the Cancellation Limit).
Not only that, but the fine print on the “free” tickets offer states that by accepting its terms, the user agrees to receive telemarketing phone calls and text messages from a variety of different companies.
Similar phony free ticket lures are used to spread malware. In those versions of the scam, those who attempt to reach the URL provided for the purpose of claiming the free tickets are instead victimized by a Facebook “lifejacking” attack, a malicious script that takes over a user’s Facebook profile without their knowledge and propagates itself to their friends’ accounts as well.
Southwest Airlines has responded to such scams by issuing messages on Twitter that read: “Hey folks! There is a scam being passed around on Facebook about a 2 free ticket offer from SWA. Please don’t click or share the links!”
As well, Southwest spokesperson Christi McNeill has said of these attempts to defraud that “We are aware of the scam for two free tickets being spread across Facebook. This offer is in no way affiliated with Southwest Airlines and we are working with Facebook to get it removed.”
Geelan-Sayres, Jane. “That Free Ticket Link Is Too Good to Be True.”
NBC-DFW.com. 14 November 2011.
Sabatinell, Blake. “Free Southwest Ticket Scam Rapidly Spreading on Facebook.”
ABC Action News. 14 November 2011.