Travel agent accused of client fraud

| 07/04/2017 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cayman 123 Travel owner, Theresa Chin

(CNS): The owner of Cayman 123 Travel, Theresa Chin, appeared in Grand Court this week on trial for 14 fraud related offences on customers, including the misuse of one client’s credit card. Opening the case against Chin, prosecutor Toyin Salako told the jury that over a four-month period from December 2014 until April 2015 Chin took cash from eleven people for flights or holidays but did not buy their tickets. Chin is also accused of using another customer’s American Express card details without permission to pay for other clients’ travel, as her travel agency hit financial trouble.

Chin has accepted that she took the cash, which amounts to more than CI$14,000, but has claimed she did not do so dishonestly and had never intended to deprive the customers of their money or travel arrangements.

The court heard that Chin had taken the cash from various individual customers who had all come to the agency and made travel arrangements with her. They left her office with receipts and travel itineraries believing their trips or seats were secure. But when they arrived at the airport, they learned that there was no ticket as the reservations had been cancelled because 123 Travel failed to pay for them.

In several of the cases, the customers who arrived at the airport to find they had no seats on the aircraft were forced to buy new tickets, sometimes at higher prices than they had paid Chin, leaving them out of pocket twice over. One customer had booked a $5,000 family cruise holiday with Chin and had to buy the whole trip over again when he learned shortly before departure that the cash he had paid Chin had disappeared and the cruise line had not been paid.

Chin had held an IATA travel licence, an industry licensing system that enables travel agents to issue airline tickets, but towards the end of 2014, as a result of her failure to pay debts, she lost that licence. The crown also said that Chin failed to renew her local trade and business licence.

Even though her business was in financial trouble, she continued to trade until April 2015, when the alleged deceptions began to come to light. Although her clients had paid her cash for their airline tickets, cruises and other holidays and travel, Chin had not used their money for their trips but was using it to tackle her own mounting debts, the crown revealed.

Salako told the jury that Chin continued to trade even when she knew she was in difficulty and could not pay the bills. As a result, she committed a crime each time she dishonestly mislead the people she took cash from and did not use their money as intended, leaving them stranded at the airport.

Three of the counts Chin faces relate to a different deception: one of Chin’s old customers found that she had been misusing his credit card details, which she had retained in a notebook that was exhibited to the court.

Giving evidence Friday, Orville McTyson explained that he had been a customer of Chin’s travel agency for several years. He said he had known her from when they both worked at Cayman Airways.

On the last occasion that he booked a trip through 123 Travel at the end of 2013, he had used his American Express card. But in April 2015, almost 18 months later, when he and his wife were reconciling their credit card bills, they discovered some payments to Cayman Airways for flights that they were completely unaware of.

They also discovered several other attempts to use the card for more airline ticket purchases, which the card company had held back in its pending system. They later learned that this was because the transactions had raised suspicion. When the couple contacted American Express and Cayman Airways to find out what was going on, they learned that the card had been used by Chin.

The court heard that although the customers involved had paid Chin cash for the CAL flights, she had used that cash for something else, so she used McTyson’s credit card number and security code to buy and retain the flights with the local airline. She also attempted to do the same thing with tickets for other airlines as well.

McTyson said he did not know either of the people whose tickets were paid for with his card. He also told the court that he had no idea Chin had retained his credit card details in a notebook and had never given her permission to use the card for the flights she had purchased or the others she had tried to buy. However, he revealed that he had been reimbursed for the tickets by Cayman Airways when the fraud came to light.

The case continues.

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