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Ticket Scam Resource Center - Event Scams

Scams are usually associated with high-demand, mainstream events. Some events are relatively expensive but have only a moderate demand, such as classical orchestra concerts. While these concerts may sell out, the demand usually isn't high enough to spur the creation of a secondary (scalper's) ticket market. However, the prices are high enough to generate a small amount of counterfeiting, so this page still applies.
Scams are usually associated with high-demand, mainstream events. Some events are relatively expensive but have only a moderate demand, such as classical orchestra concerts. While these concerts may sell out, the demand usually isn't high enough to spur the creation of a secondary (scalper's) ticket market. However, the prices are high enough to generate a small amount of counterfeiting, so this page still applies.
Scams tend to victimize those rabid fans who will do anything and spend any amount to attend certain events. In their zeal to get any ticket from any source, they sometimes aren't careful, and become victims. The first line of defense against getting victimized is to stay calm. Even if you don't get tickets at first, you've probably got weeks to hit up on friends and haggle with reputable brokers. Immediately after a sellout, there will be a chunk of tickets available, so wait until just before the event and haggle the price down. Investigate the available ticket sources and trust your gut feelings. If you buy products from an unverifiable, out-of-state source, you're taking a big risk.
Ticketing scams are NOT RARE, and include previously used tickets, resale of lost or stolen tickets, online auction fraud, counterfeiting, tickets for non-existent events, fictitious tickets, and fake web sites. Also mentioned here is a lottery ticket scam.

Previously used tickets

TicketMaster tickets and other modern tickets, especially for high-demand events, are bar coded and uniquely numbered. This allows the ticketing agency to electronically verify the ticket with a scanner at the entry to the venue. The scam relies on the fact that these tickets are not marked or torn; they are usually handed back to the customer. But if the customer discards the ticket, it looks to the naked eye like a valid ticket, even though the computer knows that the ticket has already been used.
So, a venue insider (such as a security employee) grabs a couple of discarded tickets and exits the building. On the outside, the tickets are scalped at a seemingly bargain rate to an unsuspecting fan. With ticket prices the way they are these days, the scalper can make a couple hundred bucks pretty quickly. At the gate, the tickets are scanned and the computer rejects them, since they have already been used. The fan runs back outside to beat the crap out of the scalper, but the scalper has reentered the building through an employee entrance, where the rejected fan will never see him.
Another possibility is that a legitimate ticket holder enters the venue and keeps the ticket, as usual. The ticket holder leaves the event early and scalps the ticket on the street for a seemingly bargain price, since the event has already begun. By the time the already-used ticket is rejected by the gate scanner, the original ticket holder is long gone and the second buyer loses his or her money.

Resale of lost/stolen tickets

Since tickets are uniquely identifiable, an original purchaser can report a ticket as having been lost or stolen or destroyed, and the ticketing agency can invalidate the ticket and issue a replacement with a new ID. If someone tries to enter a venue with a ticket whose ID has been reported as lost or stolen, the scanner will reject that ticket. The holder of that bad ticket probably didn't find or steal the tickets. The holder probably bought the tickets on eBay or from a scalper who found or stole the tickets.
Even brokers can be victimized, since many tickets sold by brokers were acquired by the broker from individuals who may have stolen the tickets. A ticket may not be immediately reported as lost, so even if the broker or buyer can verify the ticket with the ticketing agency, the ticket might be invalidated at a later date. When a consumer buys what turns out to be a bad ticket from a broker, the consumer will get refunded. But it's still a frustrating problem. Be diligent about verifying tickets and tracing their history.

Online auctions (eBay)

Most eBay sellers and buyers are honest folks who just want to turn one person's trash into another person's treasure. But there are many people who make a living out of selling stuff on eBay, and the ticket market is easy to use in this way. Tickets are initially available online at face value, and can be resold online for a profit. You will often encounter eBay ticket sellers with multiple auctions for tickets to multiple events. These aren't professional brokers, but they make a regular profit. While eBay keeps much personal information hidden, eBay does provide ways to contact sellers and get some information. Try to contact any ticket seller, and ask for a response. If email bounces, inform eBay and don't deal with that seller. Don't contact other bidders; let eBay do that. If the seller won't respond, take that as a sign that he or she won't be committed to resolving disputes.
The problem with tickets purchased on eBay is that it is difficult to trace the ticket history. You don't know if the tickets came directly from the venue or TicketMaster, or if the tickets were found on the street or stolen from a parked car. Sellers of tickets may be practically anywhere in the world, so tracking down the seller to resolve a dispute can be difficult. eBay can cancel a disreputable account, but you've still lost real money.
The tickets you buy via an online auction might be valid tickets for something, but not for what you think they're for. Before you buy, be sure to contact the seller and resolve any questions. The seller might claim that the tickets are for great seats, dead center, close up, but then the seats turn out to be in East Timbuktu. This could be considered fraud, and you might have a case for a dispute. But to some extent, it's caveat emptor. Almost every large venue in North America has a web site with a seating chart, so ask the seller about the seat location and look it up, and save all letters and emails.
According to this article from ZDNet News, eBay claims that less than one one-hundredth of one percent of eBay transactions are confirmed to be fraudulent, but that's potentially hundreds of fraudulent transactions per day. Ticket scams account for more eBay fraud than any other single merchandise category. In 2008, Gregg and Scott (Communications of the ACM, April, 2008) reported 0.73 complaints per 100 eBay comments in a sampling of over 1 million comments during 2003 and 2005. In other words, in this time frame, a little under 1% of eBay comments from auction winners were negative comments about the sellers. The authors also concluded that their study of eBay's reputation system indicated that the rate of improper transactions, fraudulent or accidental or otherwise, is higher than admitted by eBay.

Counterfeit tickets

Ultimately, we'll all have electronic chips implanted in our arms, and access to events will be digitally stored there. But as long as paper tickets remain a means of providing access to events, counterfeiting will continue to be a problem. Consumers should strive to purchase tickets directly from a ticketing agency, such as a venue box office, TicketMaster, etc. Otherwise, attempt to verify the history of the tickets, such as by asking to see a TicketMaster receipt or order description. This is difficult when dealing with eBay sellers and street scalpers, who may themselves have acquired tickets from secondary sources.
TicketMaster and other high end ticket sources usually issue high-quality tickets, especially to high-demand events where fraud may be a problem. These tickets contain colors, watermarks, special graphics, bar codes, serial numbers, ultraviolet marks, and other security features. If you acquire a questionable ticket in advance (such as via eBay), bring it to a ticket outlet in advance of the event for verification.
Verification of a ticket in advance can be difficult. Ticketing agencies have little motivation to help with secondary market customers, and may refuse to help or claim that they have no way to help, especially if the ticket holder has no receipt.
Counterfeits are usually produced by modifying tickets for some other event. Even if a sophisticated counterfeiter can produce tickets from scratch, the quality will probably be poorer than original tickets.
The writing may scratch off or smear easily. Look for White-Out.
The original ticket's writing may not use the same number of letters as the target event's name, so the counterfeiter might use minor misspellings to get everything to fit.
There are some reports of copied bar codes. Since modern ticket-takers no longer actually read a ticket, and only scan the barcode, the ticket itself can say almost anything. A counterfeiter somehow gets a valid barcode from some other ticket, counterfeits it onto a bogus ticket, and arrives at the venue early. The ticket is accepted, but later on, the actual valid ticket (with the duplicated barcode) is rejected. If the bogus ticket holder actually sits in the fraudulently acquired seat, venue security personnel will eventually catch on. One of the things you get for TicketMaster's high fees is a guarantee that you'll survive any dispute over your seats.
For TicketMaster tickets, use the following detection methods:
Look for an X code, which signifies the order in which the seating sections are sold. If you have upper deck seats with an X2 code, that's probably bogus.
Tickets issued together (in the same purchase) will have consecutive, red serial numbers on the back.
Under a black light, a hidden logo will appear. Before the event, take the tickets to a Spencer Gifts store in your local mall and use one of their display lights.
Hold a lighter flame to the ticket, and you'll see a distinctive discoloration on the opposite side of the ticket.
Scratch the surface with a fingernail or coin, and you'll see a black scratch.
Another type of bar code scam involves the use of home-printed tickets. For some events, tickets can be purchased online and printed on a home printer, resulting in a sheet of paper with a bar code. The sheet can be copied (many times) on a photocopier and sold to unsuspecting fans. The fact that it's a photocopy is not a problem. This scam is occurring in 2006, and it seems almost unfathomable that ticketing agencies never expected this. At the venue, the first ticket holder to enter is seated, and a conflict arises when additional ticket holders want the same seats. The scam can unravel for the scalper if two fans who know each other purchase tickets from the same scalper and realize they have the same seats. Typically, for home-printed movie tickets, the coded sheets must be traded at the box office for actual tickets. While movie theaters don't usually offer reserved seating, this box office visit would at least avoid the unpleasant conflict inside the venue, for reserved seating events. This type of scam can be fairly sophisticated, if the scalper uses disposable cell phones and faked identification to buy and advertise the tickets.

Non-existent events and fictitious tickets

One scam involved a travel agency selling packages for tickets, transportation, and lodging, all associated with a particular concert. The concert was never scheduled, but the fans apparently didn't know this. Eventually, the travel agency claimed that the concert had been canceled. They gave refunds but kept about $25 in non-refundable fees. The scam was uncovered, but the lesson is to double-check the scheduling of events when purchasing tickets from a secondary source
Similarly, watch out for travel excursions to popular events that are really just hotel stays in the area of the event. In other words, when you book your Super Bowl Mega Blast, be sure that game tickets are specifically promised. If the trip description says accommodations on the night of the game, don't assume that you'll also get tickets to the game. This can be an illegal misrepresentation, depending on the wording. In some states, the tour operator is required to possess tickets at the time they are offered for sale, so if the tour operator claims at the last minute that tickets could not be acquired, but your deposit is non-refundable, a scam has occurred.
If an artist announces a concert tour and announces the dates for ticket sales, and a broker offers tickets for sale before those announced sale dates, it is possible that the broker does not actually possess the tickets. The broker is just trying to generate sales or estimate demand. If a buyer comes forward, the broker will attempt to get the actual tickets along with everyone else, when the tickets go on sale. If the broker can't get the tickets, the buyer is refunded or is provided with different tickets. But if you're such a rabid fan that you buy from a broker, a refund isn't much consolation. In many North American jurisdictions, the seller is required by law to disclose the fact that the tickets are not actually in hand.

Fake mirror sites

A fake mirror site is a web site with a name that is close to a legitimate site, and pretends to perform the actions of the legitimate site. A specific scam involved sydneyopera.org, a scam site that mirrored the actual sydneyoperahouse.com. The scam site actually accepted payments for tickets, but the tickets were never provided and the seats were not reserved. The scam began to unravel when a purchaser in Australia noticed that the credit card transaction had been performed in US dollars, rather than pounds. The operators are on the run and the scam site has been shut down. This type of scam is short lived, because once the event takes place, the patrons learn that they have no seats. But by that time, thousands of dollars may have changed hands.

Presale clubs

One of the biggest fan gripes, recently, is that even when TicketMaster's servers don't crash, fans still can't get good seats. So, promoters like Clear Channel allow fans to pay money to join a club to get advance access to better seats. Sure, thousands of fans can pay $60 to get access to hundreds of seats. If you don't get seats through the pre-sale, you have to jump through hoops to get a refund. These clubs are such blatant gouges of fans that they just have to be considered as scams on this web site.

Brokerage bait-and-switch

Brokers are the used car salesmen of the ticketing industry. A broker's online inventory is often displayed with disclaimers that state that a buyer might order tickets that the broker doesn't actually have in the inventory. The explanation is that the inventories can't be updated in true real time, and a buyer might order tickets that were recently ordered by someone else. The broker's response would then be to offer different tickets, at the buyer's option. This sounds OK, but this allows brokers to put just about anything online, and then when someone actually places an order, the broker can say, "Oh, someone just bought those, but we have these OTHER tickets." This is an illegal bait-and-switch scam for a licensed broker, but usually impossible to prove.

Scams against sellers

This site is generally concerned with scams against buyers. We all know about rubber checks, checks that are "in the mail", forgeries, etc. When you deal with strangers, you expose yourself to these kinds of fraud. You're in the business of scalping tickets, which is shady to begin with, so don't be surprised if you meet characters who are even shadier than yourself.

Counterfeit lottery tickets

This site is concerned with event ticket scams, but a lottery ticket scam that is getting some news coverage lately exhibits some similarities to other ticket scams. Lotteries, like events, use small, bar-coded paper tickets. This site does not cover email-based scams involving fake lottery announcements. If someone sends you an email telling you that you have won a lottery that you never entered and probably never even heard of, just delete the email.
The lottery ticket scam involves a counterfeited ticket and a personal approach. Con artists profile their victims, and this particular scam often involves victims who see some connection to the con artist. First, the con artist acquires a losing lottery ticket, through legitimate purchase or from a trash can, etc. It is helpful to have a number of losing tickets, in order to find one with some matching numbers that will be easier to modify so that it appears to have the actual winning numbers for a specific drawing. The counterfeit would not pass an inspection by the lottery organization, but it's good enough to fool carefully selected victims (such as someone with poor eyesight).
The con artist approaches the victim with a story of possessing a winning lottery ticket, but not being able to cash in. For example, the con artist may claim to be an illegal alien who can't provide a social security number for tax purposes. The victim is often an elderly immigrant who may be sympathetic to other immigrants, including illegals. The con artist promises to split the winnings of the lottery ticket, but needs some cash from the victim. The con artist may show the victim a newspaper with the winning numbers that match the counterfeited ticket. Often, the victim is approached while leaving a bank, where a deposit or withdrawal may have just taken place.
The cash is requested from the victim as a "good faith" payment in exchange for the eventual sharing of the large lottery payout. The con artist may claim some hardship. Victims who are immigrants themselves may be sympathetic to a story about a large, hungry family about to be evicted from living quarters. They need cash right away, and have a winning lottery ticket, and they'll share the winnings, but again, they need some cash right away.
The con artist may sell the counterfeit ticket to the victim and depart, or the con artist may make some other arrangement that involves cashing in the ticket and splitting the winnings. The con may involve multiple grifters, such as one who poses as an illegal alien, and another who poses as an attorney who just happens to overhear the conversation with the victim. The notion of an immigrant who became an attorney is intended to nudge a hesitant victim to have more faith. The con attorney explains the legal loopholes that will allow the victim to get rich by helping a fellow immigrant in need. Often, a couple is victimized together, in the hopes that the two will convince each other that this is actually a good thing.
No stranger in a bank parking lot wants to give you money.