Dad used ‘loophole’ to steal £25k worth of duty free on flights

A dad-of-six dubbed the ‘fraudster of the skies’ tricked two airlines out of £ 25k of duty free goods over three years.

Keith James, 63, stole £ 25k of duty-free sunglasses, aftershave, cigarettes and alcohol, after he exploited a banking security gap while flying between Spain and the UK. James would use his bank cards with no credit facilities to make in-flight purchases from the duty free trolley after realizing online transactions could only be processed after planes land.

When wheels hit the tarmac at his destination, the 63-year-old from Wythenshawe would make a quick getaway before cabin crew downloaded passenger purchases and realized his payment method was rejected. The dad-of-six defrauded Jet2 and Thomas Cook between May 2016 and April 2019.

READ MORE: Dad stole 60 iPads for sick children from Alder Hey hospital

James ignored legal letters demanding payment and even kept flying with the same operators but he was eventually arrested at Manchester Airport as he got off a flight from Spain. He later admitted hundreds of illicit mid-flight transactions claiming he wanted to ” get one over ” on the banks claiming they were ” keeping customers in debt. ”

He said he had gifted all the filched items which also included sunglasses and aftershave to his family. The total amount of goods he stole was worth £ 25,556.40.

The thefts began after James, who divided his time between the UK and a property in Tenerife where his wife lives, was diagnosed with cancer and told he was terminally ill.

In a statement James said: ” I’ve been an idiot haven’t I. But the diagnosis has taken its toll on me mentally and physically and I felt the radiotherapy and chemo had done me in and made me a bit bitter and twisted .

” I was genuinely giving things away as it made people happy. Giving away a bottle of nice perfume was making me happy. I didn’t know how long I had left and I liked doing this. I realize it was wrong I shouldn’t be doing it. But at the time I was treating each day as my last and didn’t think of the consequences – I regret it now and haven’t done it since. ”

Inquiries revealed Jet2 had been previously banned James from their aircraft over his but he circumvented it by using his middle name on boarding passes. Thomas Cook had previously told him not to use cards on board their flights.

At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, James who is still undergoing twice-yearly treatment for his illness admitted eight charges of fraud by false representation and was given 12 months jail suspended for two years. He was also ordered to complete 150 hours unpaid work and was ordered to wear an electronic tag for six months as part of a 7 pm-7am curfew.

Jet2 lost £ 12,459.50 during the racket whilst the now-defunct Thomas Cook lost £ 13,100.19.

Brett Wilson prosecuting said: ” He would regularly fly to destinations in Europe mainly Spain or the Canary Islands whilst in mid-flight he has used a credit card which had insufficient funds to buy goods. Whilst in mid-flight the terminal cannot connect to the bank for obvious reasons and it is only when the aircraft arrives at its destinations the crew plug in the payment machines and the bank does the transaction.

” An investigator for Jet2 looked at transactions and found whilst the defendant had used the name Keith James to book flights but after the airline wrote to him saying he would no longer be able to fly with them he started to make reservations using his middle name and calling himself Mr Anthony James. A Thomas Cook investigator discovered James had made 112 transactions in 2016 alone and nine in 2018. “

Keith James a rogue airline passenger nicknamed the “ Fraud of the Skies ” stole £ 25,000 of duty-free goods in three years after he exploited a gap in banking security whilst flying to and from his second home in Spain.

Mr Wilson continued: ” Matters came to an end when he was arrested at Manchester Airport. He was interviewed he said Thomas Cook had sued him for £ 13.00 and accepted he had used his cards mid-flight. Initially, he argued that he expected the banks to pay because he had credit with them and he attempted to convey an image of innocent ignorance.

” He explained he would give away the items he obtained on the planes as gifts. there were perfumes, cigarettes, alcohol and sunglasses.

” But eventually he admitted there was no credit on the cards when he made those purchases. There was extensive use of these credit cards over three years. On some occasions, he traveled out of the UK and then back again in a matter of hours.

” There was some planning and connivance behind this offending in working out that it would be very difficult for the airline to catch him. He’s deliberately targeted these airlines.

” These are not victimless crimes. People may think a big airline can simply absorb their losses but there’s an impact on all of us – raising airfares, airlines employ people locally they buy products and services and pay their taxes and shareholders. ”

In mitigation defense counsel Andy Evans said: ” His wife lives in Spain and he living between two countries to another and this offending was something he did whilst traveling. His journeys di lui were not deliberately set up to do this. He discovered this fraud by chance when he used a card with insufficient funds when on a flight- he should have ended it there but he didn’t.

” At the time he was potentially terminally ill and had a diagnosis of bladder cancer and with that preying on him and he took the decision to continue exploiting this gap in the security systems. His targets of him were the credit card companies not the airlines.

“He viewed them as organizations with deep pockets who kept normal citizens in debt and he thought this was something he could do to give him pleasure and get one up on a larger system. It was one or two luxury items at a time then he would gift them to friends and family to lighten the mood of his diagnosis.

“This was not him attempting huge financial gain. It was something which presented an opportunity for him to bring some joy to his family in a bleak time in his life. ”

When sentencing James, the judge Recorder Nicholas Fewtrell told him: ” You managed to successfully evade capture for some considerable time. Whilst I’ve listened with care to what has been said about you, the fact is these offences cannot be tolerated. “

James will face a Proceeds of Crime hearing in July.


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