When a Chandigarh-based travel agent called Air India customer service in February last year to clarify a flight in Kathmandu that he was about to book for a passenger, he unknowingly became part of a racket that ended in losing more. than Rs 50 lakh for him and several others like him. The operation, in which Air India tickets were booked through a two-decade-old BPO company, IGT Solutions, without making payments to the airline, went smoothly until the second wave of Covid hit the country, after which it began to unravel and disintegrate. fall at the seams.
Last February, the agent called a Gurgaon-registered Air India customer service number to request clarification about the naming pattern for tickets he booked for a flight to Kathmandu. Air India’s call center, which is operated by IGT Solutions, assured that he would be called back by one of their support managers. He soon received a call from a person claiming to be an Air India representative who helped him with his concerns.
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Shortly after, he was called again by the same rep, but this time with an offer. “The man claimed to be from Air India and asked me how much I paid for the Kathmandu ticket. When I told him the amount, he offered me the same ticket at a significant discount of Rs 10,000 on the stated price,” the agent said. “I have been in touch with my friends here who are senior travel agents and they advised me to take the offer but make the payment only after the passenger has traveled with the said ticket,” he added.
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The alleged Air India representative agreed to his payment terms and gave him a ticket. The agent’s customer traveled to Kathmandu without any problem and he paid the money to this person. “For the next 15 days, we followed this payment model only after the trip was completed … as the person never failed, I decided to make payments at the time of booking,” the agent said, adding that his other colleagues also started to book through this person.
This all went like clockwork until India was hit by a deadly Covid wave in May 2021, which affected people’s travel plans and they started canceling tickets. Some of the agent’s customers canceled tickets to destinations such as Canada and expected a refund. But he never received that refund to pass on to his customers. Other travel agencies also fell into this trap. “As of now, refunds of about 60 tickets (mostly for flights to Canada) totaling Rs 52 lakh are due… and I am only one agent – there are more,” he said.
At the same time, Air India became aware of an accounting discrepancy in the amount it expected to receive from IGT Solutions for tickets it believed had been issued by the BPO company on behalf of the airline. Legitimate tickets have been issued, but the airline has not received payments for these bookings. Usually, such discrepancies arise on a rolling basis and are resolved within a few days, weeks, or months. But when this particular mismatch lasted for an extended period of time, we approached IGT Solutions and asked them to look into it,” an Air India executive told The Indian Express, refusing to share the total amount the airline should receive for these tickets. .
IGT Solutions, for its part, last month filed a preliminary information report (FIR) at Cyber Crime Police Station, Gurgaon, against unknown persons, where it has said that “several tickets have been issued through the Air India system with no payments received by the airline, which was reported by Air India to IGT”.
“The company also looked at bookings made with the login IDs and passwords of the IGT employees, when these employees were not even authorized, were not trained in ticketing and in some cases were not employed on the moment fraudulent tickets were made,” read the May 7 FIR, which was reviewed by The Indian Express.
In the FIR, IGT Solutions said that after the discrepancy was discovered, it provided Air India with certain IP addresses from which it provides the call center services so that the airline can restrict access to all other IP addresses. “Since this check was not implemented, we are shocked to find that few/maybe many tickets have been issued without any payment,” read the complaint filed by IGT Solutions’ Senior Manager Fraud Investigations Manmeet Bakshi.
Multiple messages sent to Bakshi seeking comment on this story resulted in no response. IGT Solutions did not respond to a detailed set of questions sent by this newspaper. IGT Solutions was previously InterGlobe Technologies while owned by Rahul Bhatia – the billionaire promoter of budget airline IndiGo. The call center company was acquired in 2019 by AION Capital – a joint venture between global PE fund Apollo Global Management and ICICI Ventures – in 2019 for $230 million. It is reported that AION Capital is likely to sell an 85 percent stake in IGT Solutions to private equity wholesaler Baring PE Asia for more than $800 million.
In response to email inquiries, an Air India spokesperson denied its employees’ involvement in the fraudulent ticket bookings. “However, we are aware that M/s IGT, who provides the contact center for Air India, has filed an FIR against unknown persons and not against an Air India employee. A discrepancy has been identified and IGT has followed their procedure on this point,” the spokesperson said. In a follow-up question about the circumstances in which the alleged fraudster could have accessed the agent’s data, the spokesman said: “Air India has always has had a zero tolerance for any kind of malpractice or impropriety in any area of its operations… we have it is quite clear that Air India is in no way sued in the FIR you mentioned and is not aware of any allegations of involvement of its own staff in the matter”.
After months of not receiving their money, the agent and others traveled to Delhi in July last year to confront the alleged fraudster. “He promised to pay back the money. But it still has to be. He has not returned to his home since July last year. My only hope is in the police investigation,” he said.