This is the summer of the blockbuster concert, and why not: Music fans have years of pent-up Covid frustration that they are ready to release. Sold-out shows by megastars like Taylor Swift are the perfect venue to release all that energy. Unfortunately, all this pent-up demand has created the perfect playing field for criminals. Moms searching desperately to get tickets for their beloved teen-ager are backed into a corner that’s a perfect environment for a scam — buyers need to make quick, panicky decisions, prices seem to be constantly rising, hidden fees are everywhere, and new technology can be confusing and easily spoofed. I haven’t found solid statistics on this, but plenty of anecdotes and a report by the Public Interest Research Group agree — ticket scams are up, dramatically.
Let’s face it: One reason is those who control legitimate ticket sales sites and secondary markets have very sticky fingers and subject fans to outrageous fees. This fits neatly in my long-standing theory that poor customer service is a vulnerability, that it pushes consumers into the arms of criminals. It’s hard enough to pay $800 for a concert ticket, but add $100 in fees on top of that, and it’s no wonder concert fans might go looking for tickets in low places. Let me be clear: That’s a terrible idea. Don’t buy concert tickets from a stranger you “meet” on Craigslist or Facebook. You have to use the sanctioned services or else you’ll be in a cesspool of fraud. Sure, maybe you know someone who lucked out that way, but don’t spend your money on luck. And, it’s critical to know, there’s no way you can call or email or message Ticketmaster or Stubhub or any other entity to verify a ticket purchased outside their systems is legitimate.
For a recent Perfect Scam episode, I interviewed the author of that PIRG report, but more important, I talked with a mom who went the extra mile to buy her kid a Taylor Swift ticket — and ended up the victim of a $1,200 scam. I hope you’ll listen to her story. She was just trying to give her child (and three friends!) a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
So as we enter the final stages of the summer of the blockbuster show, be careful out there. Below is a portion of my conversation with Teresa Murray from PIRG with some additional ticket-buying advice. But if you like podcasts, click here or click the play button below to listen to the episode.
[00:20:09] Teresa Murray: Yeah, basically what we did was look at all of the instances of complaints out there. And this was in the springtime with a lot of hot concerts out there being scheduled for the spring and summer and fall, and you know really concertgoers and people who were just wanting a social outlet, we lost like three years, and you know 2020 and 2021, a lot of things were cancelled. A lot of concerts and other kinds of entertainment venues didn’t really get started back in 2022 for different reasons, and so this is like the first, you know, quote-unquote normal year that we’ve had in entertainment since 2019. So we were seeing a huge pent-up demand among consumers, and so we were hearing reports about consumers falling prey to various scams when all they’re trying to do is go see their favorite band, you know. You know, and maybe buy tickets for their spouse or their kids and go see this act. And they’re just trying to have a good time and they end up getting hurt.
[00:21:14] Bob: Most ticket scams follow a familiar pattern, Teresa says.
[00:21:18] Teresa Murray: One of the most common ways that we see is somebody will see a listing on say, Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace for, you know, oh hey, I have two tickets to this thing, and you know call me. So in some cases they may actually, they, they could have genuine tickets and send someone a picture of like real tickets that really exist and really have a barcode, and then they could say, yeah, it’s going to cost you $1000 for these two tickets. Send me the money through Cash App or Zelle. Usually Cash App or something else, or even gift cards sometimes because it’s a little less traceable. And then, then the person never sends the tickets, okay? Or they do send something, they’re just something that someone created use–, using Photoshop. In other cases they may say, they may pose as like a ticket broker, and say, okay, you know, I can get you two tickets in this section, how does that look? Is that good? Okay, go ahead and give me your Mastercard or VISA number, get all the information, you know including the, the CVV code, and the zip code, and of course there are no tickets. And they may, they’ll use that information to go out and make other purchases as quickly as possible before the card gets shut down for fraud.
[00:22:39] Bob: Why does it at least seem to me like concert ticket scams have exploded in the past year?
[00:22:43] Teresa Murray: I mean it’s all about supply and demand, okay, but it’s about desperation. You know a lot of cases some of these acts that are touring this year, of course everybody wants to go see Taylor Swift. You’ve got Beyonce, you’ve got like The Cure, Blink 182, you’ve got Janet Jackson, you’ve got Depeche Mode. So there’s, you know, there’s some country artists, there’s really a wide array of artists that people want to go see, and again, a lot of these folks for various reasons haven’t toured in many years, and so you’ve got this huge demand for tickets, and then like I said, a lot of people have a, have a desire to go out and have anything that resembles fun anyway. And you, with the concert tickets in particular, it’s oftentimes viewed as like a once in a lifetime experience. I mean certainly for anybody who had tickets to say Elton John’s Farewell, Farewell Tour, you know he’s, he’s, he says he’s not touring anymore. And Taylor Swift, I think she last toured in like 2017 or something, and so this would be a parent’s, you know, one chance to take their teenage girl to go see Taylor Swift most likely, particularly if she were touring in a, in a city that was close by to them. And so people view it as like, here is my one chance. I have, I have been a fan of this artist for forever, and they’re coming to my city, or they’re coming to a city a couple of hours from me. I am going to make it happen. But then, of course, really regardless of the artist, I mean this has happened in a lot of cases, either the tickets have helped, have sold out incredibly quickly, or the tickets are expensive, and people think, oh gosh, you know, even if tickets were available, I can’t afford that price. Maybe I can find something on the secondary market to make my boyfriend happy, my kid happy, whatever. And so it’s basically the intersection of this exclusive opportunity to go see this artist and being you know just, people just pulling out all the stops to try and make it happen. And when you have something like that happen, you have desperation, you have the emotions that go into it. Desperate people sometimes make bad decisions. I mean the common thread here is you know individual people who for whatever reason are desperate, and there’s also an urgency to it. With the concert tickets, it’s like okay, either you make a decision to buy these tickets or you know somebody else is going to buy them in seconds, okay. So it’s, you know, people are desperate, there’s a time element to it, and urgency to it that you’ve got to act now. That doesn’t give them time to actually think about it.
[00:25:30] Bob: It’s, it’s like concerts bring together all the elements we always tell people to avoid.
[00:25:35] Teresa Murray: Yes. Yes.
[00:25:38] Bob: Part of the reason ticket scams are more common is that technology does seem to enable some of these crimes.
[00:25:44] Teresa Murray: The technology that’s available to bad guys today, is so much more advanced than it was just a few years ago. I mean, for example, if you were to just type into a search engine, Google or your favorite search engine, and say you were looking for tickets to Taylor Swift or Beyonce or whoever, and you just typed in Taylor Swift tickets, you know, Cincinnati, she just was in Cincinnati recently. You know you’re going to come across a number of websites, some of which may not even be legitimate websites. So like I had pointed out in the piece that we did, is you could, you could create a fake domain, an imposter URL, using Ticketmaster.com but instead of the “I” in Ticket, it’s actually if, if you were going to put it into you know like an email or whatever, it’s actually a lowercase “L.” Well there’s no way for you to tell that, okay. And so bad guys can create fake websites, use the Ticketmaster or whatever, venue logos, the colors, the interface, everything looks just the same, but it’s not the real website. In other cases, it’s incredibly easy to spoof phone numbers, and either to make it seem like you’re calling from, or that somebody’s calling you in a city where you are not located, or if they want to call you, make it seem like that they’re calling from you know, Ticketmaster or this stadium or that stadium. And you know that was technology that didn’t exist all that many years ago. And then the other thing that’s probably elevated now is the easy access to P2P platforms with like you know Zelle and Venmo and PayPal, Cash App. I mean those have been around for a while, but people have just gotten that much better at them and it’s a lot easier to set up accounts and use middlemen to kind of uh launder the money. You know, in addition to the fact that anybody can place ads or place listings on Craig’s List, Facebook Marketplace, a number of other platforms that are out there.
[00:27:58] Bob: While this is a far cry from the days of looking for a scalper holding up a handful of tickets for sale outside a venue a few minutes before the show…
[00:28:07] Teresa Murray: You know you talked about back in the good old days, not that long ago when there were paper tickets. And I know one of the things that you could do in some cities, especially with like sporting events, but if there was a paper ticket that you bought from, you know some scalper off the corner, you could go to the box office, like with you know with the seller; go to the box office and have them scan the ticket to make sure that it’s legit. And you could do that before you exchanged money. But it’s very rare you see paper tickets these days.
[00:28:38] Bob: The victims of online ticket scams suffer from more than just missing out on a once in a lifetime show.
[00:28:46] Teresa Murray: And they’re all unfortunate, they’re all sad, because you know it’s, it’s worse than just a normal scam because these people who are victims were really hoping that they were going to have so much fun, they were so looking forward to this event. We’ve certainly heard from people that the concerts are in a different city, they’ll make a hotel reservation, and they’ll actually go there, and it won’t be until they get to the venue and they show this barcode or QR code on their phone that supposedly represents their ticket, that’s when they find out that it’s all, that it’s all fake, that it’s all a scam. And they’re just devastated.