Fake tickets, real heartbreak: Tips for fans to spot scams

Counterfeit tickets to concerts and big sporting events are a huge problem.

Vishnu R Nair via Pexels | Used by permission

Many of the biggest names in music are touring this summer — some for the first time in years. Besides Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, artists performing this year include The Cure, Pink, Duran Duran, Zac Brown Band, Madonna, Alicia Keys and more. And it’s playoff time for both the NBA and NHL in cities from Los Angeles and Denver to Boston and Miami.

In most cases, you’ve got sold-out venues. In other cases, because tickets are expensive to buy directly, some fans may be looking for deals from folks who bought tickets but can’t go.

When you throw in many people’s pent-up desire to go to big crowded events for the first time post-pandemic, you’ve got the potential for scams.

Counterfeit tickets and various scams have been a problem for years. Technology improves every year, making it more difficult than ever to spot fake tickets or detect a scam until it’s too late. 

Here’s some critical advice:

  • 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. No Facebook Marketplace. No Craigslist. No Instagram.
  • Unless you know the individual personally, never pay for tickets with a P2P service such as Zelle, Venmo, PayPal, CashApp, etc. or a wire transfer. If it’s a scam, you’ll never get your money back.
  • Buy tickets with a credit card, not a debit card. You have far greater protections with a credit card under the Fair Credit Billing Act if you do buy counterfeit tickets or your payment information is used fraudulently. It won’t help you get to the concert or game but at least you should get your money back. And you never want to use a debit card anyway, because it exposes your bank account.
  • If you’re looking for a reseller, buy tickets only through known, established resellers, such as TicketMaster, StubHub or VividSeats. It’s not worth searching around online for cheaper tickets and stumbling onto goodness-knows-what-kind-of-website. A scammer can, for example, create a website with the URL: TlCKETMASTER.COM Did you notice that URL contains a lower-case L and not an I?
  • With any of these secondary market sellers, research the website’s commitment that’s IN WRITING if something happens that the tickets are counterfeit or aren’t available after all. Does the reseller promise to get you other tickets? Does it simply offer a refund including all fees and then you’re sitting at home?
  • Be extra skeptical of tickets supposedly for sale for Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, a big playoff game or another hot event. These are pretty much sold out. We can guarantee you the con artists have already been hard at work for months and, unfortunately, some music and sports fans will fall victim through one of a bunch of different ways. Desperate people get scammed. People tend to suspend their common sense when they’re desperate.
  • When buying tickets, make sure the section and seat number on the ticket you want to buy actually exist.
  • Search for negative reviews about the seller and look for complaints filed with your state attorney general’s office. You can also do a search for the name of the seller or email address or phone number and the word “scam” or “fraud” or “counterfeit.”
  • Ideally, you’d buy tickets when they go on sale from the actual seller, but we realize that’s not always possible, for a number of reasons. But keep an eye out for special pre-sales that sometimes come with credit cards you have or whatever.
  • How can you spot fake tickets? Don’t try. If you’re looking at photos of tickets or even actually holding tickets in your hand, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to detect a counterfeit ticket. Find out whether a venue even offers paper tickets. Some places don’t. And scammers can create realistic-looking e-tickets or QR codes.
  • If all else fails, and you think you’re taking a chance by buying tickets that you’re not sure are legit, just don’t buy them. Make the decision to not go to the concert or the game. If you decide to take a chance, you may spend far more time sorting out the fraud and trying to get your hundreds or thousands of dollars back than you would have spent at the concert.

Two other important points:

  1. Consumers who do snag tickets for concerts, big sports matches or other events are warned to never post photos of their tickets online because thieves could hijack the barcodes or information to go to the event themselves or create counterfeit tickets, according to the FBI.
  2. People should watch out for con artists who are supposedly selling tickets (or renting out a home or selling a car) and say they need to send you a code to verify your identity. It’s usually a six-digit code. What they’re really doing is one of two things:
    * If they have your email address, they send a “forgot password” to your email provider and use the code you give them to change your password and hack your account and do all kinds of bad things, including possibly raiding your bank account, sending emails impersonating you to others, etc. (Remember how much damage was caused when Clinton aide John Podesta’s email was hacked back in 2016.)
    * If they have your phone number, they can use the code to set up a Google Voice account in your name and use that phone number to scam people, in your name. If you encounter a person saying they want to send you a code to verify your identity, RUN! It’s bad news.
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Authors

Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

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