How to spot a social media travel scam – and avoid losing hundreds of pounds

Missing possessions: Twitter scams began with British Airways luggage delays (Simon Calder)
Missing possessions: Twitter scams began with British Airways luggage delays (Simon Calder)

Criminals are targeting frustrated travellers on social media by setting up scam airline accounts and pretending to offer help.

As The Independent first revealed in 2022, villains mainly based in East Africa are seeking to cash in on travellers’ complaints to airlines and holiday companies.

So prolific have the attempts to steal money become that one easyJet passenger who complained on X (formerly Twitter) about a baggage issue was contacted by 10 scam accounts.

When and how did they start? How do the scammers lure their victims? What is the end game that results in airline passengers and holidaymakers unwittingly sending cash to the villains? And how can you avoid them?

These are the key questions and answers.

What’s the problem?

Scammers intent on stealing money from unhappy travellers are running wild on social media. They take advantage of frustrated airline passengers and holidaymakers who go on to platforms such as X (formerly Twitter) in a bid to get a response on travel issues.

The criminals set up “imposter” accounts that bear a passing resemblance to the official site. Typical scam accounts include:

  • @easyJet_easy_

  • @CareBritish

  • Seen Dolye CEO British Airways (BA’s chief executive is Sean Doyle)

The villains’ aim is to persuade innocent travellers to contact them so that an elaborate series of lies can be told and hundreds of pounds extracted while the passenger fondly believes they are being “helped”.

When and how did it start?

The scammers’ opportunities began as travel restarted after Covid. With maximum pressure on an industry that was on its knees, many things went wrong – from lost baggage to flights cancelled on an industrial scale.

Fraudsters saw the opportunity to cash in on passengers’s frustrations. In an early case The Independent looked at, a British Airways passenger living in Mexico, whose bag had failed to appear at New York JFK, was told their bag had mysteriously been flown from a different NYC airport, La Guardia, to Dallas-Fort Worth.

Someone calling himself “Martin from BA” wrote on Twitter that the luggage could be recovered – but only if the passenger transferred 22,458 Kenyan shillings (£150) to a person living in Nakuru, Kenya.

That is not a normal request from a UK airline about baggage that is supposedly in the US and belongs to a Mexican passenger.

How does the scam work?

The fraudsters use bots to trawl for complaints and, indeed, any contacts.

When we asked easyJet when to check in at Manchester airport for a flight to Prague, two fraudsters quickly responded:

  • @easyJet471463 said: “It’s unfortunate for the challenge encountered. We would like to closely look at the concern raised. Please follow back and share with us via DM your full name, email address, phone number, and reservation number to allow us further.

  • @easyjet1Page said: “Apologies for the inconvenience caused kindly share a reachable phone number for assistance via DM.”

If you send a number, you are likely swiftly to get a WhatsApp call from someone claiming to be from customer service. The number may show that it is a Kenyan mobile number.

WhenThe Independent set up a contact with a fraudster, and queried the international code, we were told the reason was because easyJet had outsourced its customer service operation to Kenya. “This is our office number - that’s why I’ve contacted you so that we can be able to compensate you on your side.”

This is not true.

What happens during the call?

A gentleman who says his name is Mr Patrick calls. He asks for email and booking details, and the complaint you have. As soon as you say you want compensation he says he will arrange it.

He asks you to download a perfectly legitimate app, such as World Remit.

“I want you to download this app on your side which we are going to compensate you through,” he lies.

“The compensation has started up on the United States, just download the app first.

“You are the receiver who is going to receive the compensation and the administrator who is currently facilitating the compensation is currently in Kenya.”

Once you have set up the app – including bank or credit card details – he will ask you to tap in a code. He wants to make it sounds like an innocent code of the kind a travel company might use. In our case it was KES149456.

In fact, KES is the international currency code for Kenyan Shillings. The scam actually involves transferring money from your account to an account in Kenya. “The administrator is currently in Kenya,” you might be told.

If you follow his instructions, you will send 149,456 Kenyan Shillings – about £760 – to someone in Kenya.

“Down there under the method of transfer you press, ‘OK’ for mobile transfer,” Mr Patrick continues.

If you press OK, you have lost that money. You will feel under perssure: fraudsters invariably want to persuade you to part with your hard-earned cash quickly. They will warn that the compensation will be lost unless you act fast.

Because it is a voluntary transfer, your bank is unlikely to help if you send over the money. However, one woman who was nearly scammed said that her bank saved her losing money by declining to send money to an account that raised a red flag.

How can I avoid being duped?

Check the credentials – or lack of them – of the account that responds to you. A genuine company will have a gold or blue tick.

Next, look at the history of the account:

  • @easyjet1Page was set up in June 2024 and has zero followers

  • @easyJet, the genuine account, was set up in May 2009 and has 590,000 followers.

Under no circumstances pass on your phone number. And if you are called from a strange number, put the phone down and contact the company through its official channels.

A spokesperson for easyJet said: “We continue to report fake accounts to X so they can take any necessary action.

“We advise customers to only follow and engage with our sole official channel @easyJet, which is identifiable by the gold verification badge for official businesses, for the latest updates or to seek support and to be vigilant and to not engage with or click on any links from other accounts.”

Listen to the fraudster trying to scam us for £760 on this podcast