Holidaymakers warned over airline scams on X

Scammers are targeting airline customers (Pictures: Getty/REX/Which?)

Holidaymakers have been warned to look out for scammers impersonating airlines and targeting their customers on X.

The rise in scams as the summer holiday season approaches raises the question of whether the social media platform is doing enough to tackle the risk.

Frustrated travellers often raise issues or complaints on X, formerly Twitter, tagging the airline in their post – but Which? Discovered these messages are quickly found by scammers, often using bots.

The scammers then reply using an account with a similar name, hoping the customer won’t notice, and by impersonating the airline’s customer service team, try to trick people into handing over sensitive information.

In one example, a researcher from the consumer rights group contacted Wizz Air on X to ask if a flight was delayed. Within minutes, they received replies from two fake accounts using almost identical language. 

Both apologised for the inconvenience, stating that they had ‘already escalated this matter to the relevant department’ and requesting a ‘reachable WhatsApp number for assistance’ via a direct message (DM).

A typical scam response (Picture: Which?)

The team found similar fake accounts impersonating every major airline operating in the UK, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Tui, easyJet and Ryanair.

They also discovered that not only are the fake accounts often quickest to respond to complaints or queries, but they will also interrupt conversations with legitimate airline customer service teams.

How to avoid being scammed by fake airline accounts

Airlines will never ask for bank or card details over social media, even in a direct message – so any requests like this are an immediate giveaway.

Even if they don’t ask directly for card information, they may send a link to phishing websites that can harvest your card details. 

In other cases, they may claim you are entitled to compensation, or owe a fee to resolve the issue. This often requires downloading a payment app to continue, and they will steal money this way.

Apart from minor queries, it is always best to contact the airline directly, and never hand over sensitive information on social media. Even if the scammer is not able to steal money, they can easily gain enough data to commit data fraud, and may often ask for a DM continuing your phone number and other personal information.

Legitimate airline accounts won’t ask you to hand over sensitive information (Picture: Which?)

How to spot fake accounts – and which are real?

Following Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover of X, then Twitter, in October 2022, blue ticks are now available for anyone to buy, and so do not necessarily mean an account is legitimate. 

Some of the fake accounts spotted by Which? had blue ticks, which can be bought for around £10 a month across the world.

Some airlines do have gold ticks, which costs businesses thousands of pounds a year.

However, there are other giveaways, including the date an account joined X, and how many followers they have – major airlines’ legitimate accounts will have tens of thousands, if not many more, while most scam accounts have only a handful.

Scam accounts may also have unusual spellings of the companies or additional characters. One such account was called @wzzair_.

The genuine X accounts for seven major airlines are:

@British_Airways (with a gold verification tick)

@easyJet (with a gold verification tick)

@jet2tweets (with a gold verification tick)

@askryanair

@tuiuk (with a blue verification tick)

@VirginAtlantic (with a gold verification tick)

@wizzair (with a blue verification tick)

Scam accounts will often have odd spellings (Picture: Which?)

Is X doing enough about fake accounts?

Anyone can report a fake or scam account by clicking on the three dots in the top right-hand corner of a post or account and selecting ‘report’.

However, Which? Reported that most they had flagged to X during its investigation were still live – despite the X press office stating: ‘All accounts you have mentioned have been suspended for violating the X Rules.’

Mr Musk tried to pull out of his multi-billion dollar buy before it completed, saying Twitter had failed to supply enough information regarding fake accounts and bots.

A judge eventually compelled him to complete the sale, after which he pledged to crack down on them, including a recent trial requiring new users to pay a small fee in order to post.

However, many users argue the bot situation is getting worse.

The team also contacted the airlines affected, but none were able to confirm how many fake accounts they had reported this year, or whether they had considered leaving X due to scammers targeting their customers.

Among the airlines to respond, an easyJet spokesperson said: ‘We continue to report fake accounts to X so they can take any necessary action and 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.’

Tui said: ‘We regularly monitor for any accounts impersonating Tui on social media and report accordingly for the online safety of our customers. Customers should ensure that they are only interacting with @tuiuk, which is marked with a blue tick next to it.

‘If it is, then customers can be assured they are talking to Tui, if not they shouldn’t provide any details and should report the page so the social platform can take action.’

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