A hacker who screwed airlines out of millions of dollars was jailed on Monday for four years and ten months.
Eric Donys Simeu, of Cameroon, had pleaded guilty to computer and wire fraud in December. The 32-year-old admitted he used stolen usernames and passwords to access booking systems to buy flights that were resold for profit or used by Simeu himself.
Airlines and travel agents use GDSes – global distribution systems – to manage reservations for passengers, and ensure aircraft aren't massively overbooked (typically airlines overbook by a few passengers to account for no-shows). Those able to login to a GDS can book tickets for travelers and have them dispatched for pickup.
According to court documents [PDF] filed in Atlanta, Georgia, Simeu and persons unknown targeted two of the biggest GDS operators, Sabre and Travelport, by sending out phishing emails to their customers – airlines and travel agents. These messages redirected the clients to a phony login page that harvested their credentials and allowed the miscreants access to the GDS booking system, masquerading as their victims.
Between July 2011 to September 2014 the gang managed to fraudulently order over $2m worth of airline tickets. These were either sold on to West African customers for a large profit, or used by gang members to jet off to foreign locations.
But it was one of these trips that proved to be Simeu's undoing. In September, 2014 he booked himself a ticket from Togo to Paris, with a layover in Casablanca. He used the name Martell Collins to match his fake British passport.
When he got to Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, he was spotted and arrested by French detectives. Unbeknownst to Simeu, an international warrant had been issued for his arrest and les flics were ready for him.
Simeu spent 18 months languishing in a French prison before being extradited to the US to face trial. After pleading guilty, Simeu was sentenced to four years and ten months in prison by US District Court Judge William Duffey Jr. The judge further ordered Simeu to pay $162,146 restitution to Travelport.
"The sentencing of international cyber hacker Eric Donys Simeu to federal prison is a direct result of the hard work and persistence of numerous FBI investigators and federal prosecutors working with their international partners," said David LeValley, special agent in charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
"The cooperation between law enforcement, both domestic and international, and the victim companies targeted, as seen in this case, is an example of what it takes to investigate, apprehend, and present for prosecution those international criminals who feel that they are beyond the reach of US law enforcement." ®