MasterCard International is arming travel agents with information they can use to prevent credit card fraud.

In a 1992 survey, the New York-based association discovered that travel agents are increasingly concerned about fraud, and they do not receive proper training in how to avoid it. For $14.95, they can now purchase the MasterCard Answer Kit, which consists of a video, a study guide, and a computer disk.

The three items provide agents with general information about how credit cards are processed, typical ways fraud can occur, and useful sample forms.

San Francisco-based Visa U.S.A. introduced a similar product, called Tips For Travel Agents, in September 1992. In conjunction with the guide, which is available at no cost, Visa also developed an address-verification system, or AVS, designed specifically for travel agents.

Verification Assistance

Address-verification systems assist mail or telephone order merchants in verifying a customer's billing address. This information prevents some kinds of fraud, since seam artists don't always know the billing address of the consumer whose card or account they have stolen or found.

Travel agents access AVS through their computer reservation systems, but not all travel agents have this capability, so Visa offers a phone service that links agents to Visa's AVS at a cost of 95 cents for the first minute.

MasterCard, which introduced an AVS program in 1990, enhanced its system to include more information about the shipping address.

"Fraud is a noncompetitive issue as far aS the industry is concerned," said Joel Lisker, MasterCard's senior vice president of fraud, who explained that Visa, American Express, and Dean Whter, Discover & Co., work together on various fraud issues.

Travel agents are vulnerable to credit-card fraud because they often deliver services over the phone. Agents are unable to check the signature panel on the card with the customer's signature, and they can't check for signs of credit-card tampering during a phone transaction.

Travel agents book more than $50 billion worth of travel a year, and 80% of those sales are credit-card transactions. If they authorize a sale involving a counterfeit, lost, or stolen card, travel agents, not vendors such as airlines and hotels, absorb the loss.

MasterCard reports that a steady increase in fraud began in 1989, and the industry is now losing $1.5 billion a year. Counterfeit cards claim most of the fraud losses, though, according to MasterCard, only one in 5,000 cards fall victim to counterfeiting.

The average amount of money spent on a counterfeit card before it is no longer valid is $2,709, and the average amount for one item bought with such a card is $300.

American Airlines, one of the largest merchants in the travel industry, reports that 57% of credit-card fraud chargebacks sold through travel agencies are from people who say they never purchased an airline ticket, 22.6% of chargebacks are the resuit of invalid account numbers, and 17% of chargebacks are unauthorized sales.

MasterCard's Answer Kit was developed with the travel industry, so much of the advice on how to recognize certain scams is given by travel agents.

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