TACOMA, Wash. — If you’re determined to get tickets to a sold-out concert or sporting event, you might jump at any offer that comes along. Scammers are counting on that desperation to steal your money.
“We’re coming out of a pandemic, and people are excited to get back out there,” said Melanie McGovern, director of public relations and social media at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). “They want this ticket no matter the cost, and unfortunately they’re getting scammed.”
Ticket complaints “skyrocketed” in the last year or so, McGovern told Checkbook. The BBB has processed nearly 21,000 complaints about ticket purchases since January 2022.
Because tickets to popular concerts and sporting events are expensive, scam victims have lost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. In many cases, the crooks take the money and run: You don’t get the ticket(s) you bought, and you can’t get your money back.
Many fans don’t find out they’ve been scammed until they show up at the venue and can’t get in. Some learn they bought counterfeit tickets. Others have legitimate tickets that the scammer sold to multiple people; in that scenario, the first person who has their ticket scanned at the gate gets in, but the others don’t. It’s a familiar and frustrating problem for the companies that operate concert and sporting venues.
“Our number one [goal] is to get the tickets into the hands of the fans. So, when there are folks doing unscrupulous things out there, it’s definitely a difficult situation,” said Adam Cook, director of Tacoma Venues and Events, the company that manages the Tacoma Dome for the city of Tacoma, Wash.
If seats are still available, the person holding bogus tickets can go the box office and buy legitimate ones at face value.
“Without an actual ticket, we don’t have the ability to let you in, and we can’t provide refunds,” Cook told Checkbook. “Any refund would have to be through the original point of purchase.”
Ticket scams have been a problem for years, but digital technology “makes it more difficult than ever to spot fake tickets or detect a scam until it’s too late,” Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, warned in a recent blog post. It’s easy to forge barcodes, QR codes, and logos of actual ticket companies.
“Smart people are getting scammed because they let their guard down,” Murray told Checkbook. “They’re desperate, and in their haste, they make a bad decision.”
Most problems happen when fans buy tickets already purchased by someone else. Victims say they responded to an ad on social media, used an online marketplace, or did a random search for tickets to an event and landed on a fraudulent website. Based on complaints, online transactions with strangers or unknown ticket resale companies can lead to heartbreaking disappointment and a significant loss of money. A recent post on the BBB Scam Tracker website reports someone in Ohio tried to buy Taylor Swift concert tickets and lost $800.
It’s easy for fraudsters to create counterfeit websites that look like well-known companies. For example, a scammer could buy the URL TlCKETMASTER.COM to direct people to their bogus site, Murray said. You wouldn’t notice it, but the address in the URL above is spelled with a lower-case “L” instead of an “I.”
“Forget Facebook Marketplace, forget Craigslist, forget Instagram,” Murray cautioned. “And unless you’re buying tickets from someone you actually know—a co-worker, a relative, a super-close friend—then don’t try to buy tickets from an individual.”
The safest way to buy tickets is from the venue, either in person or through its official website. Even if that site sends you to another site to complete the transaction, you know you’re using the correct URL.
For a sold-out event, an online reseller (such as StubHub, Vivid Seats, or SeatGeek) may be your only option. Live Nation and Ticketmaster also resell tickets. If you’re not familiar with the resale company, check it out at BBB.org. Be suspicious anytime tickets for a popular event are being sold below market value.
Caution: Some resellers don’t disclose their fees until you’re at checkout, so the initial ticket price is much less than the actual price. In May, the consumer group Truth in Advertising (TINA.org) issued an ad alert about StubHub’s “hidden” ticket fees. TINA.org found that StubHub’s fees are a “whopping 23 percent of the total ticket cost and are only disclosed after consumers provide a trove of personal information, including their email address and billing address.”
Another smart move: Make sure the company is a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers. NATB members guarantee to deliver your tickets, or refund 200 percent of the ticket price should something go wrong.
“The best advice we can give is to do your homework, and know who you’re buying the ticket from,” said Gary Adler, NATB’s executive director. “The incidents of fraud with professional sellers are minuscule.”
Before buying tickets from an unknown reseller, go to the venue’s website and look at the seating chart for that event. If the seats on the ticket you’re about to buy don’t match up to what’s there—you’re dealing with a scammer, the BBB’s McGovern warned.
And find out how tickets for the event are delivered. To prevent fraud, the industry is switching to digital-only tickets. If the seller is offering paper tickets, and the event is digital-only, you know those tickets are fake.
Red Flag Warnings: Steer clear of any reseller that won’t accept credit cards and especially those that wants payment via gift card, wire transfer, or a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app. Criminals prefer these payment methods because they’re instant, untraceable, and irreversible. P2P apps such as Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App caution users not to use them for retail purchases. If you pay this way and get burned, you’re on your own.
A credit card is the best way to pay because it provides fraud protection. Should those tickets turn out to be bogus, or you don’t get anything at all, you can dispute the fraudulent charge with the credit card company. If the seller won’t take credit cards, walk away.
And don’t use PayPal if the seller insists you choose the “friends and family option” to save them from paying the service fee. Doing this eliminates your right to contest or dispute the transaction later, consumer watchdog Murray cautioned.
Despite the obvious risk, some people will take a chance and go with an unknown seller for must-see events. In this case, the best you can do is research the seller (look for reviews and check with the BBB). But that’s no guarantee. If you get swindled, no one will be able to help you, unless you’ve paid by credit card. Are you willing to lose all that money—and deal with the disappointment—if you find out you’ve been dealing with a crook?
Also, some criminals pretend to resell popular tickets in order to harvest personal information, so you could lose more than money. You may be setting yourself up for identity theft.
If you do score hard-to-get tickets, don’t post a picture of them on social media. The barcode can be “a goldmine for scammers,” according to a fraud alert from the FBI, who can use that information to create counterfeit tickets for themselves or to sell to others. So, protect ticket barcodes the same as you would credit card numbers.
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Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get good service and low prices. It does this by providing unbiased ratings, advice, and price information. Checkbook is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can reach Herb at his website ConsumerMan.com.