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United Airlines: We Didn't Have a Computer Glitch

Tickers in this article: UAL

CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- The latest false Internet story about United accuses the carrier of a computer glitch after scammers were able to convince themselves they had bought airplane tickets for $5.

The Internet is a place where if you falsely convince yourself that you successfully committed a scam, you then brag about it online, where your boast gets picked up and made into "news" stories.

The trouble with this particular story is that United never sold any tickets to the scammers. "We didn't have a Web site glitch and we did not issue any tickets" as a result of the scam, said United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.

On Tuesday, about a dozen Internet stories reported that a United computer glitch enabled customers to buy international travel tickets for bargain prices, variously reported as $5, $10 and $49.40. A typical headline proclaimed "Nearly Free Flights Thanks to United Glitch."

The stories all followed an article that appeared Monday in Mashable, a New York-based Web site that primarily covers technology, social media and entertainment.

In the story, Mashable detailed the scam devised by an unidentified reader, who was able to simultaneously enter the United.com booking site with two different browsers, and then to game the site into thinking that a frequent flier account had enough mileage to obtain a free ticket, when in fact it didn't. The scammer, able to secure a reservation confirmation, then convinced himself he had bought a ticket.

The Mashable reporter wrote that by following the same process he was one click away from buying a round-trip flight from Newark to Dublin for $49.40, the cost of taxes and fees.

In some cases, the scammers later complained on the Internet that pending charge authorizations showed up in their credit card accounts -- perhaps as a virtual indication that crime doesn't pay.

United's Johnson reiterated Wednesday that whatever else happened, the scam didn't work.

"Several customers attempted to manipulate United.com to knowingly purchase tickets without having the required award miles in their accounts," he said. "Those customers who received a confirmed reservation from United.com did not in fact receive a ticket, pending deposit of the required mileage."