Fraud fears lead WestJet to suspend credit-card check-ins at kiosks
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Fraud fears lead WestJet to suspend credit-card check-ins at kiosks
July 23, 2008

Fears of fraud have prompted WestJet Airlines Ltd (TSX:WJA) to stop letting its passengers use credit cards at self-serve check-in kiosks at airports across the country, the Calgary-based airline announced Wednesday.

The move comes amid reports that financial institutions are investigating isolated fraud incidents stemming from the use of credit cards to obtain boarding passes from kiosks at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. The move takes effect immediately.

The decision was a 'proactive measure,' said Richard Bartrem, WestJet's vice-president of culture and communication, who cautioned against pinning the blame solely on the kiosks until after the investigation is complete. 'Until they've made a determination as to whether or not there's an issue, it's a relatively simple fix for us to temporarily disable the credit-card functionality within the kiosk,' Bartrem said.

Bartrem said the airline was advised a little more than a week ago by Visa and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority - which manages Pearson - of an investigation into the potential fraudulent use of credit-card information gleaned from the kiosks. 'We decided that given that we're not sure if this is in fact real or not, we took the precautionary measure of disabling just the credit-card portion of the functionality of the kiosks across our network in Canada,' Bartrem said. Passengers will still be able to use other forms of identification to use the kiosks, he added. 'These are allegations at this point and not aimed at any specific airline.'

Bartrem said about 6,000 WestJet passengers at Pearson check in using the kiosks each day, but he couldn't say how many of them used credit cards. He also said the credit-card feature isn't necessarily gone for good. 'We'll certainly reinstate it once we understand from Visa that there is no issue, so we'll take the appropriate action necessary once we understand from them what's transpired.'

Visa Canada said in a statement Wednesday that the company is working with airport officials and airlines to investigate the situation.

Pearson is Canada's busiest airport, handling some 31.5 million passengers annually. The 150 check-in kiosks at Pearson are owned by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, but the information shared with airlines is managed by two technology companies - ARINC Inc. and SITA Inc.

'It's an individual business decision, and that's fine,' airport authority spokesman Scott Armstrong said of WestJet's move. 'They're still using the kiosks, and passengers can still check in with the kiosks. They just have to do it with either their reservation number or just by typing in their last name.' He also said he wasn't certain whether other airlines would follow WestJet's lead. 'Each airline decides individually what kind of identification they'll accept so they can fine-tune their system as needed,' he said. 'From our end, which has been audited and checked, there's nothing to change.'

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline has no plans to disable its credit-card features on the kiosks. 'The GTAA ... has assured us and the public that it's in a thorough review, and it says the kiosks are safe and secure,' he said. Fitzpatrick also said using credit cards at the kiosks is the 'least popular and least-used option' for the airline's passengers to check in.

RCMP Sgt. Marc Laporte said the police force is aware of the situation, but has not yet launched an investigation.



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