GREELEY, CO – JUNE 24:The standing room only crowd reacts as Brad Paisley performs on the first night of the Superstars concert series during the 100th Greeley Stampede on the new permanent stage in the arena at Island Grove Regional Park in Greeley June 24, 2022. (Alex McIntyre/Staff Photographer)
The warmer months of summer not only bring backyard barbecues, pool parties and the anticipation of vacations, but also numerous events like concerts, festivals and sporting events.
With iconic venues like Red Rocks, The Fox Theatre in Boulder, Denver’s Fillmore and Mishawaka Amphitheater in Bellvue, Colorado doesn’t lack in entertainment. However, as with pretty much any industry, there are folks out there that are looking to make a quick buck off of innocent fans looking to enjoy an in-person entertainment experience with their favorite artist, band, sports team or other event.
“The scalper sites look very legit, but they are targeting the area,” said Tylene Gagnon of the Stampede Troupe.
Gagnon first noticed the scammer sites when the theater group was selling tickets for its production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” this past September.
Tickets for the show at the Union Colony Civic Center were $35 at most, Gagnon said. However, third-party ticket sites were selling tickets for as much as $175 per person.
“I had a family of five pay over $500 to come to the show,” Gagnon explained. “When they came, there was no ticket and no seats. Since that one was such a complete fraudulent site, they made their own seat map and their own QR code. When they came, nothing existed for them.”
Luckily, Gagnon was able to find some seats for the family as well as offer them a tour of the backstage and photo opportunities with the cast and crew.
The Rialto Theatre has also seen tickets for some of their shows listed on third-party sites for well over what the theater’s box office was charging.
“They are definitely listing our shows for way over actual price. I don’t believe we have had anyone actually purchase them,” Senior Marketing Coordinator Mikayla Adair said. “We did have one customer call the box office and it sounded like they were on a third-party site, but we caught it and directed them to the correct ticketing site.”
Scammers aren’t just targeting local events and smaller venues like the Greeley Stampede and The Rialto Theater, many big-name stars and sports franchises are just as vulnerable, if not more.
On Nov. 15, 2022, over 3.5 million fans experienced massive technical issues while trying to buy presale tickets for Taylor Swift’s 2023 tour that kicked off on March 17 in Glendale, Ariz. Several more fans were left disappointed after Ticketmaster canceled the general public sale, which was set for Nov. 18.
While many fans were able to snag seats for the show, other Swifities have resorted to scouring third-party sellers and social media platforms for any available tickets — at prices that well exceed market value.
“Con artists will seize any opportunity to rip people off, and as soon as the tours for Taylor Swift or artists Beyoncé or The Cure were even announced — scammers trying to figure out ways to capitalize on people’s desperation to get tickets,” said Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog with the Denver-based Public Interest Research Group, in a Billboard story.
Murray explained that when tickets for the Eras Tour went on sale, her group saw an uptick in forged barcodes, fake websites and spoofs of legitimate sites like StubHub and Ticketmaster.
What is a third-party ticket site?
Third-party tickets sites often are confused for licensed ticket sellers such as Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.
The difference between licensed ticket seller and third-party sites is how the companies acquired the tickets to begin with.
Organizers of concerts, shows, sports games and other events directly contract with companies like Ticketmaster and AXS to sell tickets, while third-party ticket sites like StubHub and SeatGeek are platforms where people can sell their tickets to events.
While StubHub and SeatGeek claim that they don’t sell tickets at inflated prices, it’s really up to the seller to determine how much they want to sell the ticket for.
Third-party sites also do not confirm if the tickets are legitimate, they only act as a platform for people interested in selling their tickets to an event.
Some third-party sites use automated bots to purchase large quantities of tickets from licensed ticket sellers for a lower price, only to turn around and resell the tickets for more.
To understand the difference in pricing between licensed ticket sale companies and third party sites, the Greeley Tribune compared tickets for the upcoming Cirque Du Soleil show at the Ball Arena in Denver.
Tickets listed on Cirque Du Soleil’s website for the show at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 5, section 103, row AA, seat 11 was priced at $135 for adults and $125 for kids.
The exact same ticket for the same show, section, row and seat on Vividseats was listed at $550.
While this example might not represent the typical amount of money a ticket is increased on a third-party site, it’s a good illustration of what can happen.
The Greeley Tribune reached out to Vividseats several times by email and telephone for comment about the company’s policy on ticket pricing, but received no response.
Outwitting the scammers
Event organizers are using technology to stay one step ahead of third-party sellers and scammers.
Justin Watada, general manager of the Greeley Stampede and Kevin McFarling, marketing manager for the event, are no strangers to third-party ticket sellers.
“It’s crazy that it’s going at a local level, but unfortunately there are some not nice people out there that are scamming people,” Watada said. “And the bigger the concert we get, the more problems it seems that we have. We do get people each year calling and saying, ‘How dare you charge so much for your tickets, they are so expensive,’ and we tell them, ‘our tickets are this much.’”
Over the past few years, Watada and McFarling have noticed that third-party sellers are listing tickets for sale before they even own them.
“We don’t have a third-party site. We just haven’t gotten into that and we just don’t have the bandwidth to handle that,” Watada said.
With paper tickets being easier to duplicate, the Greeley Stampede has opted to go digital for a majority of their tickets.
Once the tickets are scanned at the entry gate, they can’t be transferred or duplicated.
“Unfortunately, people don’t find out that their ticket is not an actual ticket until they are at the event and trying to get in,” McFarling said. “So you can imagine how bad they feel spending the additional money on a ticket, when ours is like $45 bucks, and then they learn they can’t see the concert.”
The Denver Broncos utilize a “live-barcode” system where the bar code continuously changes, making it virtually impossible for scammers to duplicate, Watada said.
Pam Bricker, co-founder of the Greeley Blues Jam, said that event also opted to go to online only tickets.
“Some people are having issues with it, but it works well when you go online,” Bricker said.
Third-party ticket sales is big business
In the United States, ticket resale is a $15 billion industry, according to the International Journal of Music Business Research.
Laws pertaining to the resale of tickets vary from state to state, with many states, like Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska, not having any laws in place to protect consumers from fraudulent ticket sellers and inflated prices.
The State of Alabama requires that anyone who sells a ticket “at a greater price that the original price” will be required to pay a license tax of $100.
In Massachusetts, third-party ticket sellers cannot resell tickets “at a price that is in excess of $2 over the face price” and North Carolina has a law that makes the use of bots in purchasing tickets from a licensed ticket seller an unfair trade practice.
In Colorado, Sen. Kerry Donovan (D) and Rep. Lisa Cutter (D) introduced SB21-186 to the State Senate on March 19, 2021.
The bill repeals provisions prohibiting certain restrictions on ticket resales by limiting a reseller from advertising, offering for sale, or contracting to resell tickets or accepting payment for a resale ticket unless the reseller is in possession of the ticket or has a written contract from the original owner to obtain the ticket.
The bill also states that the “terms or conditions” on the original sale of the ticket, including limits of transferability, are allowed.
To help curb deceptive trade practices, the bill prohibits the use of a website to display a trademarked or copyrighted URL, title, image or other symbol without written consent as well as using text, images, web designs or internet addresses similar to another website without written consent.
While the bill was moved on to the Senate Committee on Business, Labor, & Technology on April 5, 2021, it has been postponed indefinitely.
More recently, SB23-60, which would ban bots from purchasing bunches of tickets and require sellers to disclose the actual cost of the tickets upfront, is sitting on Gov. Jared Polis’s desk waiting to be signed, reported The Denver Post on May 30.
The bill would also ban third parties from being able to sell tickets they do not have.
Protect yourself and local events
Third-party tickets sites not only negatively impact fans’ pocketbooks, but the sale of over-inflated and/or fraudulent tickets also affect the financials of local productions, which typically rely on the sale of tickets to fund productions and performances.
“For ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ my fear is that we lost probably close to 1,000 ticket sales,” Gagnon said. “We depend on those ticket sales to help fund our productions.”
The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to do their due diligence when shopping for tickets by researching the seller’s site.
In 2022, the organization received more than 140 reports on its Scam Tracker site about ticket scams related to sporting events, concerts, theater productions and other events.
Organizations such as the National Association of Ticket Brokers, NATB, work to “promote the highest standards of conduct among ticket brokers involved in the resale of event admission tickets” as well as “facilitate consumer protection in the secondary market.”
NATB is a national organization that represents firms that resell tickets to sporting and entertainment events. The organization was founded in 1994 and partners with the Better Business Bureau.
NATB guarantees that when a consumer purchases a ticket from a member of the organization, they will receive their tickets or the organization will refund 200% of the price of the tickets back to the purchaser.
To help educate consumers about the risk of third-party ticket scams, the NATB created “The Ten Commandments of Ticket Buying.”
The 10 tips are:
- Get a money-back guarantee
- Ask for section and row and check the seating chart
- Buy from NATB members only
- Understand the terms of the transaction
- Do your research and know the market price
- Do not buy on the street corner or outside an event
- Do not buy on an unsecured website
- Do not pay with cash
- Do not take the “Too-Good-To-Be-True” deal
- Report counterfeit or dishonest sellers
Watada and McFarling suggest that when in doubt, go directly to the event’s website or box office to purchase tickets.
“The only way to stop this is if people know,” Gagnon said. “The only way to stop these guys is if they are not making money off of anyone.”
To learn more about the NATB, as well as consumers’ bill of rights, list of licensed members, how to protect yourself from getting scammed and more, go to https://bit.ly/3INCNgI.