An alleged airline ticket hacker from Cameroon will finally face multiple charges in federal court in Atlanta, after extradition from France last week, for targeting airline and travel companies in the United States.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, African-based hacker Eric Donys Simeu, a/k/a Martell Collins, a citizen of Cameroon, has been arraigned on federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, computer fraud and access device fraud. His alleged crimes are lengthy and costly, spanning several years at a cost of over $2 million.
Authorities claim Simeu is responsible for a series of “phishing campaigns” which targeted customers of Global Distribution System (“GDS”) companies from approximately July 2011 to September 2014. GDS companies provide travel booking services to travel agencies and travel-related websites. Airline tickets that are issued from sources other than air carriers themselves are generally processed through a GDS company. Customers of GDS companies, such as representatives from a travel agency or travel-related website, are issued unique login credentials that are utilized to authenticate their identity and facilitate the issuance of airline tickets on GDS servers.
In this instance, Simeu’s alleged phishing campaigns targeted customers of two GDS Companies – one with its principal U.S. operations in Atlanta, Georgia, and another headquartered in Southlake, Texas. Simeu allegedly caused phishing emails to be delivered to customers of these GDS companies for the purpose of obtaining and stealing their unique log-in credentials. Simeu and others allegedly used the stolen log-in credentials to access the servers of the two GDS companies and cause the issuance of fraudulent airline tickets. Simeu and others then allegedly sold these airline tickets to customers, mostly in West Africa, for fractions of the actual cost, or used them for personal travel. The value of the fraudulently issued airline tickets exceeded $2 million.
On September 3, 2014, Simeu was arrested by French law enforcement pursuant to a federal criminal complaint issued out of the Northern District of Georgia. At the time of his arrest, Simeu was traveling from Casablanca, Morocco, to Paris, France, on an alleged fraudulently issued airline ticket in the name of his alias, Martell Collins, utilizing a fraudulent United Kingdom passport under the same name.
“Cybercrime is borderless, but increasingly, so too are our law enforcement capabilities,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “With the cooperation of France and our international law enforcement partners, we were able to bring to justice a wanted fugitive who was allegedly committing cyber fraud that affected U.S. companies from the streets of West Africa.”
“Those who target US companies and citizens through cyber attacks and spear phishing emails can no longer be confident they will remain anonymous and be protected by geographic boundaries. The arrest and extradition of Eric Simeu is the result of a multi-national effort led by the FBI, which demonstrates the benefits of global cooperation among international law enforcement and the private sector. This arrest and extradition serves a strong deterrent to those targeting the computer networks of US companies and US citizens. It should also serve as a reminder to the public to be vigilant and aware they are frequently targeted through fraudulent emails seeking to steal their personal information,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
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