Two men are facing jail time after allegedly conspiring to defraud multiple airlines through false lost luggage claims. The United States Department of Justice says the duo submitted lost luggage claims to five airlines, netting US$300,000 in total.
The DOJ has charged two Louisiana men over a lost luggage scam targeting five US airlines. Photo: Getty Images
Louisiana duo face jail time over lost luggage scam
Pernell Anthony Jones and Donmonick Martin, both Louisiana residents, were charged last week by the Eastern District of Louisiana US Attorney’s Office.
It is alleged that Mr Jones and co-conspirators made over 180 lost luggage claims to various airlines, including American, Alaska, Southwest, United, and JetBlue. Mr Jones made over $550,000 in lost luggage claims, with airlines paying out over $300,000.
The Department of Justice says Mr Jones would take a flight using a fictitious name and a fake identification card. At the destination airport, Mr Jones would falsely claim the airline lost his luggage and sought compensation. More often than not, the relevant airline would mail out a check.
Donmonick Martin has incurred the wrath of the US Attorney’s Office by going into Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans in January 2020 under a fictitious identity and falsely telling American Airlines that the airline had lost his bag on a flight. It is alleged Mr Martin accepted money from airlines from fake lost luggage claims four times.
Mr Martin is charged with one count of Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 3. That carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and/or a fine up to $250,000.
Mr Jones is in a stickier legal situation. He is charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349 and Mail Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341. The maximum penalty is 20 years and/or a $250,000 fine.
The scam revolved around claiming never checked-in luggage was mislaid by airlines. Photo: Getty Images
Fake names & fake identification cards used in lost luggage scam
Business news site MarketWatch provides more detail on the pair’s modus operandi. According to their report, the scam kicked off in 2015. Mr Jones would buy tickets under a dodgy name using prepaid gift cards. He would collect a baggage-claim ticket at the departure airport after paying the checked-bag fee, but no luggage was ever checked in.
After landing, Mr Jones would claim the airline had lost his luggage. He would say the luggage contained valuable gear, up to the $3,500 lost luggage compensation ceiling. Airlines would pay out the claim after one month if the bags had not turned up – which it was unlikely to do so given he never checked in it.
Mr Martin came into the mix because his address was used by Mr Jones on the claims paperwork. The airlines would send the check to his address in Louisiana. But as the Department of Justice allegations note, Mr Martin also visited the airport a few times to push things along.
Donmonick Martin targeted American Airlines at New Orleans Airport. Photo: Louis Armstrong International Airport
Real lost luggage claims remain rare
“We’re pleased the DOJ is pursuing this matter,” American Airlines told MarketWatch. The Department of Justice statement on the scam doesn’t say if any particular airline was more heavily targeted than others or whether the accused spread the love around the five named airlines.
Although tales of lost luggage get plenty of media attention, it’s actually a rare occurrence. In 2020, just 4.11 bags per 1,000 went awry, and most of them for a short time only. Only 5% of all lost luggage stayed lost.
The two gentlemen are due to appear in court in October.
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