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Regional airlines must secure systems; Visa

The Airline Fraud Forum highlighted the growing concerns around fraud in the travel industry

Regional airlines must secure systems; Visa
While these risks affect almost any industry across the world, there are certain threats that are associated more with services offered by airlines, such as loyalty program fraud

CyberSource, a Visa Inc. company, on Tuesday hosted the Airline Fraud Forum in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to highlight the growing risks of data theft, including loyalty program fraud and mobile fraud, for airlines in the region.

The forum was in line with CyberSource and Visa's commitment to engage with clients and stakeholders on the increasing threats of cyber-crime and ways to boost security at a time when consumers are increasingly adopting innovative digital payment systems.

Javier Mejia, vice president of Visa merchant sales and solutions, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: "Although such industry events have been held before in Latin America and Europe, we identified a gap in the MEA region at a time when it is more imperative than ever that airlines are aware of the risks they face related to loyalty programs and ticket booking services.

"The regional airline industry is increasingly playing a central role in the global airline network, with Dubai now classified as a leading hub with its strategic geographic location. Growing tourism to the region and rising passenger traffic have made Dubai the world's busiest airport. It is, therefore, vital that regional airlines ensure their systems are able to securely store and manage customer data, as any leaks can lead to severe reputational and financial damage," he added.

The threat of data theft has increased globally over the past few years as more personal consumer data, including credit card information, travel and work habits, and hobbies and preferences, comes online. While these risks affect almost any industry across the world, there are certain threats that are associated more with services offered by airlines, such as loyalty program fraud.

Loyalty programs offered by airlines are becoming targets for fraud, according to RFi Group, where fraudsters purchase points with stolen cards, redeem these points for goods and services, and take over loyalty accounts that belong to genuine customers. A report by consulting firm AI Group Inc. showed that about 72% of airline loyalty programs have been prey to fraudsters, and 30 percent say the problem is growing each year.

Hector Rodriguez, regional risk officer, CEMEA, Visa, said: "Loyalty program fraud is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is rapidly growing as airlines try to expand their loyalty program benefits to beyond simply seat and meal preferences. They are now seeking information about their customers' lifestyle and travel habits that can have major adverse implications if this information is stolen. Airlines need to be aware of this risk and beef up network security in order to create efficient personalised rewards and customised travel experiences for consumers."

Passenger traffic at Dubai Airport crossed 6.38m in February 2016, up 6.9% from the same month in 2015, according to operator Dubai Airports, led by passengers from Eastern Europe, India, North America and the GCC. This trend is expected to continue growing, with the direct contribution of tourism to GDP for Middle Eastern economies expected to have risen by 4.7% in 2015 from 2014, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Mr. Rodriguez added: "One of the challenges for airlines is to create intelligent ticket booking systems that understand the nuances of differing consumer behaviors and ensure that it builds rules that do not turn away genuine customers by identifying them as fraudulent due to traditional laptop or PC security systems."

Worldwide known airlines participated in the forum, and was supported by IATA, the trade association that represents and serves the airline industry worldwide.

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