It was the dream Irish holiday of a lifetime.
Until the dream was stolen.
Maureen Thielen and her husband, Charles Halvorson, were planning their itinerary and were looking forward to a week of touring Ireland with their three college-age children.
They had lined up their route to Dublin, a journey that would take them first from Minneapolis to Newark, and from there a connecting United Airlines flight.
But when they double checked that all was in order, they discovered that their airline tickets—costing $932.96 apiece—did not exist.
They had been scammed.
Maureen and Chuck are not inexperienced when it comes to travel, and like so many today they shop around for the most affordable tickets.
They did so this time using a website they had successfully used before on a journey that involved nine flights in Australia and New Zealand.
The website was momondo.com, an award winning Danish-founded search engine that connects to other websites.
“The website said that we might be transferred to another website, but we didn’t think too much about it as we had used them before without any problem,” Maureen, a teacher, told the Irish Echo.
They were transferred to a website apparently headquartered in India, but with a street address in upstate New York.
Maureen and Charles, with past experience in mind, followed through and paid for their tickets with a Visa card after calling a supplied international phone number.
They spoke to a person with an Indian accent and who they believed to be in India and passed over their credit card details.
They subsequently received an email invoice with all of the flight information and a reservation number for their Irish trip.
Maureen also checked with their credit card company to make sure that their payments had been made.
Visa confirmed five charges had been processed for $932.96 each, totaling $4,660.80.
According to Maureen, another check of the account, however, indicated that the charges had been made by United Airlines.
This, she said, did not make sense since they did not purchase the tickets through United Airlines directly.
“I called United Airlines to confirm our reservations. They said our confirmation number did not match anything in their system,” said Maureen.
“When I gave them the specific flight information, the United Airlines employee said that a reservation was made on June 22, in our five names, for the flights we requested, but that our reservation was withdrawn/canceled that very same day.”
Continued Maureen: “I got on the phone and once again talked to someone in India, who said she would ‘fix’ the situation.
“She proceeded to put together another fake reservation for the flights we wanted, but this time she sent another bogus confirmation number and the corresponding flight information for only one of the five family members, and that was under my name.
“I called United Airlines again, to see if this new reservation or confirmation number were legitimate and I was once again told that there was no reservation, for even one ticket, and certainly not for our family of five.
“I called back to India, to request a refund of our money, and after being put on hold for a very long time, my phone call was disconnected.”
The money was gone, and with it a dream family holiday in Ireland.
“Needless to say, I am so disappointed that we are not going to Ireland for our family vacation this summer,” said Maureen.
That vacation had been set for this week.
Now it’s up in the air, or rather in the cloud.