British Columbia·Updated

'Mystery shopper' promo code scam cost Air Canada thousands

A Cathay Dragon pilot who used a mystery shopper promo code to scam Air Canada out of thousands of dollars worth of discount flights has been ordered to repay the airline more than $36,000.

Cathay pilot Marc Anthony Tacchi ordered to repay airline $36K after using code for discount flights

An insider with a company that ran a mystery shopper program leaked a promo code which he used to book dozens of cheap first class Air Canada flights. (CBC)

A Cathay Dragon pilot who used a mystery shopper promo code to scam Air Canada out of thousands of dollars worth of discount first class flights has been ordered to repay the airline more than $36,000.

Richmond Provincial Court Judge Patrick Chen also gave Marc Anthony Tacchi a conditional discharge after the commercial airline pilot pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining transportation.

The shame of 'wanted posters'

Chen noted the unusual situation is without precedent. One of the cases the Crown gave for comparison involved a stolen car and a police chase — a far cry from Tacchi's offence, which saw the 42-year-old use a fake name, fake address and unauthorized promo code to obtain bargain basement travel for friends and family.

To cap things off, RCMP circulated an online "wanted poster" for the Canadian citizen, who is a permanent resident of Hong Kong. It can still be found online. Chen said that was punishment enough.

RCMP issued this 'wanted poster' in their quest to locate Marc Anthony Tacchi. A judge said the images will haunt him for the foreseeable future. (RCMP)

"In my view, to the extent that denunciation and general deterrence is necessary to be addressed in this sentencing, that need has been satisfied by the damage the accused has already suffered to his reputation," Chen wrote. 

"These postings [RCMP wanted poster] will endure and remain on the internet for the foreseeable future for the world to see and may well have a more general deterrent effect than a conditional sentence order."

Mystery shopper code cracked

According to the ruling, Tacchi obtained the promo code from an Ontario-based man hired by Sensors Quality Management (SQM), the company which operated the mystery shopper program for Air Canada.

The quality control scheme is supposed to work using anonymous shoppers who agree to provide detailed evaluations of goods and services in exchange for discounts.

The mystery shoppers themselves were not supposed to be given the promo code. Instead, they paid full-fare for their travel through SQM, which in turn used the code provided by Air Canada to book the flights at a discount. Once travellers turned in their evaluations, SQM gave them a refund of 50 per cent.

According to SQM President David Lipton, the man who leaked the code was a mystery shopper who was not supposed to have access to privileged information.

But he managed to crack the key, slipping the magic number to Tacchi — who was never a mystery shopper; he then used it to book four trips for himself and his family at a total value of $22,739.

He also helped friends fraudulently obtain another $13,000 worth of flights, not to mention the $554 worth of frequent flyer points he earned in the process.

According to the ruling, the independent contractor who leaked the code received a nine-month conditional sentence in an Ontario court for his frauds, the total value of which was more than $90,000.

But Chen said because of his position, the man's offences also involved a breach of trust.

Tacchi has no criminal history and took counselling aimed at gaining insight into his behaviour. He has provided full restitution to Air Canada.

His lawyers argued a conviction and sentence could jeopardize his career as a commercial airline pilot. Chen disagreed but found that a conditional discharge was in the public interest.

Lipton said the entire affair has been a headache for his company.

"We were certainly victims. We had to spend time, effort and money. And we're a small business," he said. "We take it very personally and we work with a high degree of integrity and we're well respected in the industry."