10 accused of scamming more than $1 million in New York City travel agency scheme

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Ten people have been arrested in what prosecutors call a commercial travel scam in which the suspects used stolen credit cards to purchase airline tickets for customers of online travel agencies.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced the indictments Friday, saying the suspects were able to steal more than $1 million in total from approximately 200 victims.

The majority of the tickets were ultimately canceled by the airlines or unusable by travelers, which many of them only discovered upon arriving at the airport for their trips, leaving them stranded or unable to travel.

In some cases, Vance said travelers were prevented from attending weddings or visiting sick family members.

The defendants are each charged with varying counts of second-degree grand larceny, first-degree identity theft and scheme to defraud, among others.

"During the holiday season, when so many people are traveling to visit their families at great personal expense, it is especially important to be on high alert for scam artists and cybercriminals," Vance said. "This alleged scheme left a pregnant woman stranded during a multi-part trip, forced relatives to miss a family wedding abroad, and made it impossible for a son to visit his cancer-stricken father in India. I encourage individuals to report this type of fraud by calling my Cybercrime and Identity Theft Hotline at 212-335-9600."

According to the indictment and statements made on the record in court, between June 2012 and November 2014, the suspects are accused of operating a business involving multiple incorporated travel agencies, including Bombay Travel and Tours, Raj Travel, Gandhi Travel, Patel Travel and Maha Guru Travel, and several bank accounts that were fraudulently opened in the name of the aforementioned travel agencies using falsified passports and licenses.

Prosecutors say the suspects also placed advertisements in predominately Indian-American publications throughout the U.S. and purported to offer competitively priced tickets to and from popular destinations in India.

Travelers seeking assistance with arrangements were instructed to provide names, passport numbers and flight information, and deposit payment checks directly into bank accounts controlled by the defendants. However, in lieu of using customers' checks to pay for tickets, the defendants pocketed the money and instead used stolen credit card information to buy the tickets that were later sent to their customers.

When travelers arrived at the airport for their scheduled trips, many were informed that their tickets had been canceled or that they would not be able to travel using the illegally purchased tickets, for which they had already paid thousands of dollars.

The suspects are identified as:
--Sadaqat Ali, 48, of the Bronx
--Sumit Chawla, 42, of Pakistan
--Zubair Dar, 49, of Queens
--Sarfraz Kahn, 51, of Queens
--Shah Nawaz Kiani, 29, of Pakistan
--Muhammad Asif, 32, of Pakistan
--Chaudhary Muhammad Arif, 56, of Brooklyn
--Rana Muhammad Tariq, 32, of Brooklyn
--John Doe, of Queens
--Manjeet Singh, 40, of Queens
Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.