A SINGLE mum has been conned out of more than £1,500 after purchasing flight tickets online for a surprise Christmas visit to see her baby grandchild.

Chantelle Barratt, of Viney Avenue, Romsey, lost £1,655 when she bought tickets for her and her seven-year-old daughter to travel to her hometown of Ndola in Zambia, Africa.

Ms Barratt had come across a website, www.ethiopianairlines.flightse.co.uk, and after entering her details, she was contacted by a man named Jason Kim who claimed to be an agent for a third party agency called FlightSE as named in the URL.

The 45-year-old mum, who works as a carer in Romsey, was trying to visit her two eldest daughters in Africa, one of whom gave birth to a baby girl in April 2020 who she has not met yet. After seeing flights advertised at 40% off, she hoped she would get her chance.

Ms Barratt said: “Around mid-October I started looking into flights for December. Ethiopian Airlines in particular as they are one of the few airlines that fly into Ndola, which is where I needed to land.

“I searched a multitude of websites looking at options and prices. Around October 28 I went onto what I thought was Ethiopian Airlines official website and put in my details. I then got a phone call from Jason stating he worked as an agent and would be able to help me with my tickets.”

Ms Barratt gave Jason her details to make the booking through the official airline company at www.ethiopianairlines.com and once complete, he sent an itinerary to Ms Barratt via email. She then contacted the genuine airline's reservations department and spoke to an operator who confirmed the booking had been made.

Happy at this point, she asked Jason if she could make the payment online. Jason informed her the online payment link for FlightSE was down and could she make a bank transfer instead.

The website advertised FlightSE as being ATOL protected with 100% financial protection on all bookings. Ms Barratt thought all bases were covered and transferred the money.

She continued: “I did not think anything of it and asked for their bank details. There was nothing really to make me think otherwise. I transferred a sum of £1,655 to them. They said they had received my money and would issue the tickets; this is where the problems started.

“They would not answer my calls and if they did, they would put me on hold then cut me off. I got worried and called the airline again.”

On the second call to the reservations department, Ms Barratt spoke with the head of sales who confirmed the booking was made and then cancelled. After checking the details, she was told the booking was done from Pakistan and not in the UK. An email from a team member in the reservations department said they would try to locate the agent in Pakistan but if it was booked through a third party agent it would be difficult.

Ms Barratt contacted her bank immediately and asked for a reverse transfer but as of yet, her money has not been returned. Jason had given account details stating the account was with PayRNet (a digital money institution) but Barclays for international payments. When the bank looked up the sort code, the account is not held with Barclays. Also the account was set up with an address for a residential property in Essex but the airline confirmed the booking was made outside of the UK.

Ms Barratt has also contacted the UK Civil Airline Authority and the police and is waiting for further information.

The Advertiser has contacted Ethiopian Airlines and PayRNet for comment but they have not responded.