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article imageMassive gift card scam by Southwest employee

By Jenna Cyprus     Jun 12, 2014 in Crime
Crimes related to money and embezzlement involve a variety of mediums, and some people become more resourceful as they go along the way.
You’ve probably heard that millions of gift cards go unused and expire each year, which is why it’s such a booming business. However, one Southwest Airlines employee decided to really capitalize on the cards, turning himself into police in May 2014 after his scheme caught up with him. Christopher Olivas says that he accessed $203,000 in airlines giftcards, reissuing used ones for his own private use. The 43-year-old employee found out how easy it was to “unfreeze” the cards and simply apply new PINs to them beginning in January 2013.
It’s been just over a year of free trips and racking up some serious miles for Olivas. He says he indulged in his own scam until April 2014, getting savvy to Southwest’s vulnerabilities after a transfer. There are many ways to get the most bang for your gift card buck, but this employee took it above and beyond (and into illegal territory). In September 2013, Olivas was moved from customer relations to finance, where he was charged with investigating and pinpointing fraud.
The fox in the hen house
In September 2012, Olivas was transferred from his position in customer relations to the finance division. Here, he was charged with sniffing out fraud and investigating it. Until then, he didn’t realize how lackadaisical Southwest was about storing used gift cards and those with frozen funds. In the arrest warrant affidavit, he says it was pretty easy to simply unfreeze them and that Southwest wasn’t looking closely at the usage of these cards.
In total, Olivas made use of 457 cards and enjoyed $203,146 in order to purchase numerous flights for himself and his friends. He also tapped into online (legal) gift card trading websites, swapping the cards with traders. It’s unknown exactly how many free flights he scored over the course of his scam. However, in April 2014 the jig was up after one of his colleagues noticed red flags in Olivas’ employee transactions. Since he was in the fraud department, Olivas knew it was only a matter of time.
Flying high
On May 21, 2014, Olivas turned himself in at the Dallas police station, confessing to card theft. He’s charged with “theft” for now and made bail. According to Whitney Eichinger, a spokesperson for Southwest, the company is cooperating with the police as they delve into the investigation. She notes that Olivas has been with Southwest since February 2011, but can’t say for sure if he’s still employed there.
It’s also unclear whether more charges may be applied, or whether Southwest plans to pursue any other feasible charges. However, it does showcase one of many glaring vulnerabilities for the company that demands attention and immediate action. Since Olivas took advantage of his position and access to cards for well over a year before anyone noticed anything suspicious, it’s possible that other employees have made use of the same or similar opportunities in the past. For now, Southwest is keeping mum on any future actions, but it doesn’t bode well for their internal security.
More about Southwest airlines, Scam, Employee, manpower
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