Scam and Spam Artists Hit Travel Sites and Services

Online scams in the travel sector involve e-commerce sites, online promotions, other gimmicks, according to “The Spring 2008 Brandjacking Index,” a quarterly report released by enterprise brand protection firm MarkMonitor.

Travel booking sites strictly forbid the transfer of travel vouchers, yet more than 160 listing appear daily on auction sites for discounts of 80 percent or more. MarkMonitor said it purchased vouchers from questionable sources and airline Web sites refused to redeem them, meaning the vouchers are worthless to their new owners.

The firm also found other suspect activities such as standalone domains set up to garner Web traffic. Research finds these so-called brand abusers are becoming more sophisticated in the timing and deployment of misleading Web sites.

A generic Web site was created in early March listing cheap flights to Europe. By the end of the month, after search engines had indexed the site, the same URL shifted to adult content. “This is a very advanced traffic diversion method and shows how brandjackers can evolve their strategies,” the report said.

“It’s a clever way to drive traffic, not so expensive, and clearly a surprise to consumers looking for travel,” adds Fred Felman, CMO at MarkMonitor.

Once a victim falls prey to a scheme, it becomes difficult to escape. Brand abusers use what the report calls “blended abuses,” a combination of exploits. The onslaught may include spam; phishing (define); or Web sites containing pay-per-click ads, which lead to landing pages that install malware (define).

Though tangential to the travel industry, MediaMark also examined the travel service industry. Researchers found aircraft parts for sale on B2B exchanges such as Alibaba (58 percent); Craigslist (18 percent); EC21 (13 percent); iOffer (8 percent); Trade Key (8 percent). Aircraft parts, purchased and analyzed on behalf of Mark Monitor, were which showed signs of wear. In this particular case, the researchers communicated with the seller , who said he could get more parts. The part received was painted to cover any sign of use, and had serial numbers obsfuscated.

Felman said many of the sellers were hosted out of China and required large minimum order quantities. The sale and exchange of goods is “outside of how the FAA would regulate the exchange of parts, it’s gray marketing�¢ï¿½�¦ with multiple points of origin,” he said.

Across all sectors, brand abuse continues to increase, and research shows distribution of attacks continues to evolve. Here’s a breakdown of abuse types that affect brands: