Festival-goers and football fans are being warned to be wary of a new rash of online ticket scams.
Crooks plan to catch people out by flogging them dud tickets for summer music festivals such as Glastonbury. They also hope that some of the estimated 25,000 England fans travelling to next month's World Cup in South Africa can be persuaded to part with their cash for worthless fake tickets.
"Major events such as the World Cup and large music festivals are prime targets for ticket scammers," warns Michele Shambrook of the Consumer Direct advice service managed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The OFT's "Just Tick It" campaign is highlighting concerns for people planning to travel to events overseas. It says there is increased evidence of ticket fraudsters targeting foreign music festivals such as Benicassim in Spain, Exit in Serbia and Soundwave in Croatia, as well as football matches played abroad.
"We encourage everyone buying tickets to events overseas to be especially vigilant and on the lookout for potential scams," says Shambrook. "When buying from websites that may be in a different language it can be even harder to ensure it is legitimate, so make sure you put the website's name into a search engine and see what other people are saying about it."
Viagogo, a website which re-sells legitimate tickets, estimates that almost 500,000 Britons have been duped in the past year, with half losing money as a result.
"With so many fraudsters targeting music events, it is imperative that fans looking for festival tickets this summer do their homework and buy only from a safe and secure website," says Ed Parkinson, the director of Viagogo UK. "With scammers becoming more sophisticated, consumers may need to delve a little further to distinguish between a scam site and a safe and secure website."
Conmen bank on the fact that fans may be so desperate to get their hands on tickets that their passion makes them suspend their natural wariness. Searching the internet for hard-to-find tickets can almost become a treasure hunt, and the joy of finding your prize can make you susceptible to a wellplanned confidence trick.
The way the crooks work is simple. They set up websites that offer to sell guaranteed tickets to popular sports and music events, after tickets have sold out or even before they have even been put on sale. The names of the websites may sound official – such as Springsteentickets.com or England- WorldCupTickets.com – and they often use official logos illegally. In short, they are convincing enough to pass a firstglance test.
But the truth is that if you end up on one of these bogus sites and pay for tickets you will never see them. Your calls and emails will either go unanswered, or you will be told that a representative will meet you at the venue. When you arrive, no one will turn up and you will be left out of pocket and unable to attend the event. Tricksters also operate on auction sites such as eBay and Gumtree and on social networking websites.
Of course, there are many legitimate websites, such as Viogogo, where fans can sell on unwanted tickets to each other. The ethical ticket exchange ScarletMist.com forbids users from passing on festival and concert tickets at anything more than face value.
To avoid being defrauded by a seller, you must ask yourself how he or she managed to obtain a ticket which was sold out through official channels. Ed Parkinson of Viagogo advises buyers to ask whether the seller is endorsed by a recognisable event or brand, or if the website been featured in leading news publications.
He also warns buyers to beware of search engine results. "Just because a site comes out on top for a search for, say 'Reading Festival tickets', it does not mean that the company is necessarily legitimate or will supply you with a valid festival ticket. Anyone can buy links on Google, even those sites who have no intention of supplying any tickets."
The OFT's tips to avoid being scammed include checking to find out when tickets are officially released. Anyone offering tickets before they go on sale is likely to be breaking the law. Under the Price Indications (Resale of Tickets) Regulation 1994, sellers must also disclose the face value and seat location when offering tickets – which they obviously cannot do if the tickets have not yet been put on sale. If you are considering buying online, find out first how can you contact the seller, ensure you know its full geographic address and check it has a working landline telephone number. Also check the refund policy in case of problems.
If you use your credit card to buy a ticket from an unscrupulous supplier, you might be able to make a claim from your credit card provider under the Consumer Credit Act. Debit cards are not covered by the Act, but you may still be able to ask for money back under the Visa and MasterCard "chargeback" scheme.
For more help and advice go to www.consumerdirect. gov.uk/ticketscams
'WE MET IN A PUB AND SHARED A PINT – I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA I WAS BEING TRICKED'
Andy Boyers was afraid he had missed the boat when tickets for last September's Bestival had sold out – his friends had all managed to buy tickets for the Isle of Wight music festival through official outlets.
"I was annoyed that I had missed out. I really wanted to join them for what looked like a great weekend, so when I saw a weekend ticket on sale on the Gumtree website, I arranged to meet up with the seller," says Mr Boyers, pictured, an account executive with an online communications agency in London.
"We met in a pub and even shared a pint after I had bought the ticket from him. I paid him £200, which seemed reasonable as the official price was £140 and tickets had sold out by then."
When September came, he was really looking forward to his weekend away. He and his mates journeyed by train and ferry from London to the Isle of Wight, all of them wearing fancy dress in keeping with Bestival's "out of space" theme. Mr Boyers, 28, was dressed as a Star Wars stormtrooper and looking forward to seeing his favourite acts such as Massive Attack, Elbow, Kraftwerk and Fleet Foxes. "The journey was all great fun but I got a shock whenwe arrived because I was refused entry and told by the festival organisers that my ticket was fake," he recalls. "I was astounded and gutted. I had absolutely no suspicion that the person who sold it to me was scamming me."
Desperate to join the 43,000 revellers at the sell-out festival – especially after travelling all theway to the island – Mr Boyers begged organisers to let him buy a ticket and spend the weekend with his friends. "To my relief they did let me buy a ticket and we ended up having a great time. But I really resented having to pay twice and couldn't really afford it. It has taught me a real lesson about buying tickets from dodgy sellers. I'm certainly not going to make that mistake again."