ORLANDO -- A former travel agent is free on bond here after being
charged with defrauding five travel agencies of at least $400,000
in an airline ticketing scam operated from 1995 until early 1998.
The former agent, Richard Henri Vissers, 59, of Cocoa, Fla., had
been charged with organized scheme to defraud -- a first-degree
felony under Florida statutes, punishable by up to 30 years in
prison. He was released after a bonding company put up the required
The allegations of fraud centered on Vissers' operation of
Computer Travel Systems in Melbourne, Fla. He previously operated
Beach Side Travel, also in Melbourne, but ARC declared that firm in
default and terminated it in 1994.
What follows is an outline of how the scam worked, based on
Travel Weekly interviews with Florida law enforcement officials and
two of the victimized agency owners.
Vissers paid the agencies $10 or $15 per ticket to issue
domestic or international air tickets for his corporate clients at
rates that were up to 86% less than normal Y fares.
The firm's contract with the agencies stated that they were to
use authorization numbers for wholesale ticketing (for entry in the
tour box). The numbers, Vissers told agents, were confidential and
negotiated only on behalf of the corporate clients of his firm,
Computer Travel Systems, Melbourne, Fla.
Vissers, meanwhile, billed his clients for substantially higher
fares, which they willingly paid because they still saved up to 14%
from the published Y fare; they also received a 17% rebate from
Vissers pocketed the difference between the high fares paid by
his clients and the low fares booked by the agencies.
Vissers' contract with the agencies stated that he would resolve
any ticketing problems, including debit memos. And sure enough,
debit memos there were.
Airline auditors checked the codes on flight coupons, found them
"undercollected" and issued debit memos for thousands of dollars,
demanding that agents pay the difference between the discount fare
and the Y fare.
After receiving the debit memos, agents learned that the code
numbers, such as AA3425532, were bogus, and that the airlines had
no business relationship with Vissers for corporate discounts.
According to Linda Lammers, owner of Gateway Travel, Pleasanton,
Calif., and Betty Carl, former owner of Osceola Travel, Kissimmee,
Fla., and St. Cloud (Fla.) Travel, Vissers supplied fictitious
wholesale code and AD75 numbers for America West, American, British
Airways, Continental, Delta, Lufthansa, Martinair, Midwest Express,
Northwest, Southwest, Taca, TWA, United and US Airways.
Lammers, who was hit with $120,000 worth of debit memos, filed a
criminal complaint against Vissers in Florida.
She also filed a civil suit in California against Vissers and
his company, as well as Automatic Data Processing (ADP), the firm
Vissers identified as his corporate "partner." ADP has offices in
San Ramon, Calif., Roseland, N.J., and elsewhere.
Vissers had contracted for Gateway to issue some 600 low-fare
tickets for ADP employees all over the U.S. In each case, the Y
fare was $600 or more, the suit said.
Lammers told Travel Weekly that American Express, ADP's in-plant
agency in New Jersey, would forward such reservations to
Continental, Northwest and US Airways pulled their plates from
Gateway in 1997 as a result of unpaid debit memos. Lammers said
settlements were reached with Continental, Northwest and other
carriers but not with US Airways.
Gateway's civil suit was filed in Superior Court for the County
of Alameda (Calif.)-Eastern Division and alleges breach of
contract, embezzlement and other irregularities.
ADP, in its response, denied direct responsibility for the
agency's debit memos, saying Gateway had been paid for its services
and had been reckless, careless and negligent itself.
Betty Carl, who no longer owns but still manages Osceola Travel
and St. Cloud Travel, acknowledged that she was "too trusting" in
her dealings with Vissers.
She paid about $30,000 in debit memos starting in 1995; the
airlines were unsympathetic to the fraud, she said.
For about a year, Vissers had maintained an honest business
relationship with Carl's agencies, so that when he proposed the
discount ticket arrangement, she trusted him.
Other agency victims identified by Florida authorities include
DA Travel & Tours, Orlando; Global Travel & Tours,
Melbourne, Fla., and HMI Travel, Herndon, Va.
In related news, Lammers of Gateway Travel, established an
e-mail location, [email protected], to which agents can send
information describing incidents of fraud they have
She plans to create a Web site with fraud warnings in the
Fran Durbin contributed to this report.