scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Saturday, August 13, 2022
Premium

A BPO, discounted Air India tickets & unpaid dues: ‘Racket’ unravelled by Covid

IGT Solutions was InterGlobe Technologies earlier while it was owned by Rahul Bhatia — the promoter of IndiGo. The call centre company was acquired in 2019 by AION Capital — a JV between global PE fund Apollo Global Management and ICICI Ventures — in 2019.

Written by Mihir Mishra , Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
June 8, 2022 4:55:01 am
The Tata Group-owned Air India has decided to procure its maiden batch of wide-bodied Airbus A350 aircraft (Representational)

When a Chandigarh-based travel agent called Air India’s customer care centre in February last year to seek clarity on a Kathmandu flight he was about to book for a passenger, he unwittingly became a part of a racket that ended up in losses of over Rs 50 lakh for him and multiple other like him. The nefarious operation, which involved booking Air India tickets through a two-decade old BPO company IGT Solutions, without making payments to the airline, ran smoothly until the second wave of Covid19 hit the country, after which it started to unravel and come apart at the seams.

Last February, the travel called a Gurugram-registered Air India customer support number seeking a clarification on the name pattern for tickets he was booking for a Kathmandu-bound flight. The Air India call centre, which is managed by IGT Solutions, assured that he will get a callback from one of their support executives. Soon he receives a call from someone claiming to be an Air India representative helping him with his concern.

Buy Now | Our best subscription plan now has a special price

Shortly after, this agent again got a call from the same representative, 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 to the quoted price,” he said. “I checked with my friends here, who are senior travel agents, and they advised me to take the offer but to make the payment only after the passenger has travelled on the said ticket,” he added.

Subscriber Only Stories
Cricket chases the American dreamPremium
Self-regulation: Divide among Big Tech firms on way forwardPremium
Delhi Confidential: At Environment Ministry, special days are celebrated ...Premium
Salman Rushdie at Express Idea Exchange in 2013: ‘Yes, I would write The ...Premium

The alleged Air India representative agreed to the agent’s payment terms and issued him a ticket. His customer travelled to Kathmandu without hassle and he paid the money to this person. “For the next 15 days, we followed this model of payment only after the trip is complete…since the person never failed, I decided to make payments at the time of booking,” he said, adding that his other travel agent colleagues also started booking through this person.

All this went on like clockwork until India got hit by a deadly Covid19 wave in May 2021, something that impacted people’s travel plans too, and the started cancelling tickets. Some of his customers cancelled tickets to destinations such as Canada, expecting a refund. But he never received that refund to pass it on to his customers. Other travel agents also found themselves caught in this trap. “As on date, refunds of about 60 tickets (mostly to flights to Canada) totalling Rs 52 lakh is due… and I am just one agent — there are several more,” he said.

Simultaneously, Air India became aware of an accounting discrepancy towards the amount it expected to receive from IGT Solutions for tickets it believes were issued by the BPO company on the airline’s behalf. “Legitimate tickets were issued but the airline did not receive payments towards these bookings. Typically, such discrepancies arise on a rolling basis and they get settled in a few days, weeks or months. But when this particular mismatch lasted for a longer period, we approached IGT Solutions and asked them to look into it,” an Air India executive told The Indian Express. He refused to share the total amount that the airline is due to receive on account of these tickets.

Advertisement

IGT Solutions, on its part, has filed a first information report (FIR) at Cyber Crime Police Station, Gurugram last month against unknown persons where it has said that “multiple tickets were issued through Air India system with no payments being received by the airline, which was notified by Air India to IGT”.

“The company also looked into the bookings made using the IGT employees’ login ids and passwords while these employees were not even authorised, nor trained for issuing of tickets and in few instances were not in the shift at the time when fraudulent tickets were made,” read the FIR dated May 7, which was reviewed by The Indian Express.

In the FIR, IGT Solutions said that after the discrepancy was discovered, it provided certain IP addresses to Air India from which it provides the call centre services, so that the airline can restrict access to all other IP addresses. “As this control was not put in place, to our utter shock, we find that few/may be many tickets have been issued without any payments,” read the complaint filed by IGT Solutions’ Senior Manager-Fraud Investigations Manmeet Bakshi.

Advertisement

Multiple messages sent to Bakshi seeking comment for this story did not elicit a response. IGT Solutions did not respond to a detailed set of queries sent by this newspaper. IGT Solutions, was InterGlobe Technologies earlier while it was owned by Rahul Bhatia — the billionaire promoter of budget airline IndiGo. The call centre company was acquired in 2019 by AION Capital — a JV between global PE fund Apollo Global Management and ICICI Ventures — in 2019 for $230 million. AION Capital is reported as likely to sell 85% stake in IGT Solutions to private equity major Baring PE Asia for over $800 million.

Responding to email queries, an Air India spokesperson denied involvement of its employees in the fraudulent ticket bookings. “We are, however, aware that M/s IGT, which looks after the contact centre for Air India, has filed an FIR against unknown persons and not against any Air India Employee. A discrepancy was observed and IGT has followed their procedure on this issue,” the spokesperson said. In a follow-up query about the circumstances in which the alleged fraudster could have accessed the Chandigarh travel agent’s details, the spokesperson said: “Air India has always been having zero tolerance for any kind of malpractice or impropriety in any area of its activities…we made it quite clear that Air India is in no way addressed in the FIR, mentioned by you, and is not aware of any allegation of involvement of its own personnel in the case”.

After months of not receiving their money, the agent, along with other travel agents travelled to Delhi in July last year to confront the alleged fraudster. “He promised to refund the money. But it is still due. He has not returned to his home since July last year. My only hope is on the police investigation,” he said.

📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates

For all the latest Business News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard
First published on: 08-06-2022 at 04:55:01 am

Featured Stories

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement