Scammers are setting up social media accounts impersonating easyJet to try to cash in on unhappy passengers whose flights have been cancelled.
At least 180,000 easyJet passengers have had their holiday flights cancelled after the airline culled 1,700 summer departures to and from London Gatwick. The aim is to stabilise schedules.
Hundreds of flights have been cancelled in recent weeks at the Sussex airport, which easyJet blames on air traffic control delays.
Disappointed passengers who seek help online risk being taken in by fraudsters.
For at least a year, criminals have been trying to defraud airline passengers by intercepting social media posts. They typically ask customers to send a direct message with their mobile phone number.
The subsequent conversation may involve demands for a bank transfer in order to change flights – or seek account details in an attempt to steal funds.
One easyJet passenger, Angela Collier, was fooled by scammers after her easyJet flights were cancelled and she sought a refund.
She said: “It’s a very professional scamming racket going on. When easyJet don’t give clear or concise guidelines when they cancel hundreds of flights, and it’s impossible to speak to anyone at easyJet, it makes the scammers’ job an easy one – especially as it’s a very stressful situation with a cancelled flight.
“Scammers told me the refund system was down and they were refunding via WorldRemit.”
WorldRemit is a legitimate international money transfer organisation.
Ms Collier passed on her bank details expecting funds to be credited. Instead, the scammers tried to debit her bank account to the tune of £1,400.
“Fortunately my bank, HSBC, rejected the charges. It was a very stressful situation, though, on top of a cancelled holiday.”
An easyJet spokesperson said: “We continuously monitor for and are aware of these accounts purporting to be an official easyJet account.
“We continue to report fake accounts to Twitter so they can take any necessary action and we advise customers to only follow and engage with our sole official Twitter 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.”
The Independent has asked Twitter to shut down around a dozen fake easyJet accounts – with the last one, @easyJet__1, still functioning on Tuesday afternoon. It was set up only this month and claims: “This is our only Twitter account.”
Many passengers whose flights in July, August and September have been cancelled have contacted The Independent – apparently unaware of their rights.
Typically, easyJet has rebooked them on a different day, and sometimes from a different airport.
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, any airline that cancels a flight is required to provide a ticket – on any carrier – for the same day as originally booked. But easyJet appears to be assigning passengers to its own services up to 36 hours before or after the cancelled departure.
One passenger, Elizabeth Mezzone, had both her mid-morning flights between Gatwick and Barcelona cancelled. The Spanish airline, Vueling, has near-identical timings with seats available. But instead of buying her seats on its rival, easyJet rebooked her on an early hours departure from Luton, 60 miles away, and planned to fly her back a day early to Luton.
She wrote to Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, saying: “We tried on several occasions to phone the customer services helpline and were left hanging on a ringing line which was never answered. On one occasion we got through and your service rep actually hung up on us as we politely explained the situation.
“Not only were the alternatives inappropriate for us, but there was no explanation offered. It has caused us massive distress and inconvenience and as a regular customer I am so upset that your airline chooses to behave with what appears to be total contempt and disregard for your customers.”
The Independent advised Ms Mezzone to ask for the Vueling flights.
Anna Bowles, head of consumer at the Civil Aviation Authority, sounded a warning to airlines that cancel flights and do not make clear the passengers’ options.
She said: “Where we have evidence that airlines are not following guidelines, we won’t hesitate to take further action where required.”
A spokesperson for easyJet said: “We take our customer responsibilities seriously and always comply with the relevant consumer regulations.
“Our automated system is designed to reroute passengers on the soonest available option but we understand that this may not always work for an individual so if a customer rebooks a more suitable equivalent alternative they should be reimbursed.”
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