Dishonest travel agent sentenced following Ealing investigation

A businesswoman who scammed holiday makers out of thousands of pounds by taking their cash for flights but then failing to actually purchase the tickets for those customers was brought to justice.

Abida Khatoon Kyani, of Pinkwell Lane, Hayes, admitted one count of knowingly and recklessly engaged in a commercial practice which contravened the requirements of professional diligence contrary to Contrary to Regulations 3, 8 and 13 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 when she appeared before the court on 19 May 2022.

Kyani also admitted to one count to fail to ensure that arrangements were in place for the refund of the money paid over and for the repatriation of consumers in the invent of insolvency, contrary to regulation 16(1)(2) and (3) and 25 of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992.

Kyani was also sentenced to a community order, with 10 days rehabilitation activity requirement and 100 hours unpaid work.

Kyani was ordered to pay each victim compensation and in addition she was disqualified from being a director for 6 years.

Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, cabinet member for decent living incomes said:

“We have pledged to get tough on fraudsters who take advantage of consumers. In this case Ms Kyani deceived people out of their hard earned cash for once in a lifetime flight tickets to visit relatives, often relatives who were ill.

“This case demonstrates that our Trading Standards Officers will persistently and robustly pursue criminals via enforcement and through the courts to ensure justice is done. These actions by our officers have sent a warning to those who might try to profit by defrauding our residents and consumers.”

The investigation into Kyani was led by Trading Standards Officers from London Borough of Ealing Trading Standards department and supported by Officers from the City of London Police, following a number of complaints from vulnerable consumers, who lost thousands of pounds when tickets booked through Kyani’s company, SM Travel Limited based at the ABC Shopping Centre, The Broadway, Southall, Ealing, failed to arrive, leaving their holiday plans in disarray.

Between October 2017 and August 2018 a number of customers paid Kyani for flights but received nothing – and in some cases even arrived at their departure airport with their bags packed, expecting to catch flights that they had paid for, only to find that Kyani had not paid for their tickets.

Customers not only paid for tickets, but in many cases handed their cash to Kyani, who assured them that their flights had been booked and paid for. Some of the victims were forced to buy replacement tickets to reach their destination.

Kyani, who was solely the mastermind behind the scam, appeared to target vulnerable consumers. Kyani appeared to target members of the Asian communities, with most customers buying flights to Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Many customers were going to visit family members, some of whom were either very ill or elderly. 4 years on Kyani made no attempt to repay people the money that she effectively stole from.

Victims lost amounts ranging between £760 to £3835. During sentencing the court heard from three victims of these crimes who had all fallen foul of Ms Kyani’s deceptions and lost significant amounts of money to her criminality:

  • Mr Mohamud Yussuf wanted to take his wife and three children to Somalia to visit his wife’s parents and his father, who was very ill. On the 10th July 2018, the day before he and his family were due to fly out and almost 5 months after he had paid in full, Mr Yussuf tried to check in. He made 4 or 5 attempts, but the reference numbers printed on the documentation that Kyani had given him were not recognised by the check in process. He checked with Emirates who confirmed his tickets had not been paid for. He telephoned SM Travel and Kyani told him that the flight from Dubai had been cancelled. Kyani had kept his money and never refunded Mr Yussuf. 
  • Mr Taufiq Sharif wanted to take his children to visit their grandparents in Afghanistan. He paid Kyani £3,611 for this trip to Afghanistan. Kyani never booked the flights. Mr Sharif lost all his hard earned savings to Kyani. Mr Sharif provided evidence to the Trading Standards Department and stated that the £3,611 he lost, was a lot of money to him and his family. This represented over four years of savings so that his family could travel to Afghanistan. Mr Sharif borrowed some of the money from a friend which he had to pay pack and yet he nothing to show for it. Mr Sharif is a cab driver and saving the money over that time, alongside paying household bills meaning gruelling long hours of work and long shifts for him. The money was not replaceable, and he and his family were not be able to fly to Afghanistan at that time. The trip to Afghanistan was important as he was going to see his parents – his youngest child had never met her grandparents. At the time Mr Sharif stated that his parents will now not meet their grandchildren in Afghanistan for several years as he has to save up again. Mr Sharif and his family were very upset.
  • Mr Jayash Naik who’s wife and his two daughters aged nine and one year old were in India. They all needed to travel back to the United Kingdom. Mr Naik went into S M Travel Limited on the 24th April 2018 and paid Kyani £760 for the return flights for his wife and his children. On 25 April 2018 Kyani called Mr Naik and told him that the flights had been cancelled. She said that there was a technical issue with the plane combined with the weather. She told Mr Naik this had affected the Oman to Heathrow leg of the flight and it was that part of the trip that was cancelled. Mr Naik asked about his money and Kyani said that she could not guarantee he would receive it back again and she had never guaranteed it. Mr Naik then called his wife whilst he was still in the S M Travel Limited office and asked her to check if the flight had been cancelled as he did not believe Kyani. Mr Naik’s wife checked the same day at Goa airport with the airline and found the flight had not been cancelled. Mr Naik’s wife also found that the names of her family were known to the airline as travellers but the tickets had not been confirmed as they had not been paid for by S M Travel Limited, so they could not fly.

Mohammed Tariq, Senior Trading Standards Officer who led the investigation said:

“This department will do everything possible to protect consumers from dishonest travel agents like Ms Kyani. Many of these vulnerable victims, who trusted Ms Kyani to provide flights, suffered emotionally as well as financially from the difficulties that arose from this fraudulent and dishonest trading.

“It is important that consumers conduct their own research into travel companies that they are thinking of using and make sure they are members of ABTA and are ATOL protected by checking online.”

On 19 July 2018, as part of an annual joint national Hajj and Umrah Fraud campaign between Trading Standards Officers from Ealing Trading Standards and Police Officers from the City of London Police visited the premises of S M Travel Limited based at Unit 7 ABC Shopping Centre, The Broadway, Southall.

Upon entering S M Travel Limited the Officers noticed various consumers outside at the premises arguing with Kyani about payments they made for airline tickets which had later been cancelled by Kyani and no tickets were ever issued.

An inspection was then carried out at the premises and documentation were seized for further investigation.

Kiran Seyan, Trading Standards and Licensing Compliance Team Leader at Ealing Council said:

“This was a long complex investigation and I welcome the sentence of Abida Khatoon Kyani, which sends out a clear message to other dishonest traders that such unscrupulous business practices will not be tolerated in the Borough of Ealing and we will not hesitate to prosecute.”

Abida Khatoon Kyani was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months at Isleworth Crown Court on 23 August 2022.

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