Business

Scammers 'using consumer laws'

  • 11 November 2010
  • From the section Business
Take That
Image caption The clamour to see popular artists such as Take That can drive some to try unauthorised sellers

Consumer protection laws are being exploited as part of a new type of ticketing scam, the BBC has learnt.

Fraudsters have set up websites offering tickets for events including concerts, festivals and comedy tours.

But the tickets do not exist and out-of-pocket customers are told to use consumer legislation to get money back from their credit card companies.

One security specialist called it "a clever scam", worth an estimated £12m over the last year alone.

"It's a new trend that we've seen escalate in the the past few months," said Reg Walker, director of security specialists, the Iridium Consultancy.

"The customer is a bit miffed at not getting their tickets, but because they tend to get their money back, they don't see themselves as victims and so a lot of it goes unreported," he said.

Some of the emails have even directed victims to government websites for advice or those run by organisations such as Which?.

Victims of the fraud are often told they can use section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to get a refund if they used a credit card to spend between £100 and £30,000.

And while the same legal protection does not apply to debit cards purchases or the use of credit card for transactions below £100, some banks and building societies will guarantee refunds as part of their customer service.

Separately, under the Lending Code, which most UK banks have signed up to, innocent victims of fraud on debit or credit cards will not suffer any financial loss unless they have acted negligently.

In one example seen by the BBC, people who had used an unauthorised site to see comedian Peter Kay were told they were not getting their tickets.

"Unfortunately we have been let down by our suppliers for the show and will be unable to provide you with the tickets ordered," the scam email reads.

"Due to us not using the merchant terminal that charged you anymore we are unable to issue a refund from our side. To ensure you get the refund owed please contact your card issuer and instruct them to perform a chargeback to retrieve the funds paid... unfortunately we are unable to return the money to you from our side by any means."

'Veneer of respectability'

Events including the Reading and V Festivals and tours by Simply Red and U2 have also been targeted in the scam.

Customers are attracted to the sites as they purport to sell tickets for sought-after, often sold-out events, for little more than face value.

Fraudsters will often buy sponsored online links, Mr Walker said, meaning their sites are prominently displayed by anyone searching for an event on internet search engines or online auction sites.

"This gives them a veneer of respectability," he added.

Speaking ahead of a debate on security issues facing the music industry to be held at next week's Festival Awards UK Conference, Mr Walker added that this type of con had replaced incidents of people buying tickets which turned out to be fake - or of turning up at events expecting to be given the tickets - but nobody turning up.

'Sad stories'

Buying tickets has become a "minefield", especially for first-time event goers, according to Derren Nugent of safeconcerts.com.

The website advises people about the authenticity of ticket websites and carries a list of sites it suggests people should be wary of using.

"We've spoken to police officers and people in other jobs who really should know better, who have been taken for a ride themselves," Mr Nugent said.

"But the people who get burned are usually the people who have not bought tickets before - who are maybe buying them as a treat for their children.

"We hear some really sad stories."

He added that the problem was especially pronounced for popular events when getting through to the official websites can be difficult.

"The red mist comes down and they panic because they don't want to let somebody down and in the process all sensible behaviour goes out the window."

"Some of these sites look pretty terrible but others are very slick and astonishingly convincing and well done.

"It means you're not getting hundreds of people turning up at events wailing and gnashing their teeth because they can't get in.

"Instead they're getting these emails telling them there is a problem and they're going to their banks to get the money back. I'm not sure what's worse."

He added that the use of consumer protection legislation as part of the scam was quite new, but predicted it would "become a standard procedure".

"There's a small pool of people running these sites and when one finds a technique that works, they'll all do it."

Image caption Some websites have been set up to try to identify potential scams

Take That targeted

Figures from the Office of Fair Trading suggest that one in 12 ticket buyers admit to having been caught out by fake ticketing websites.

Mr Walker said that authorities including police and trading standards officials were hunting out and closing scam sites which were set up before tickets went on sale.

He said that before the recent sale of tickets for next year's Take That tour - which sold one million tickets in just 24 hours - several sites had been taken offline.

However because scam sites are typically hosted in place such as Cyprus, Slovakia and Malaysia, taking action was not always easy.

The government says anyone who thinks they have been a victim of any type of fraud or scam should report it to Action Fraud, a service run by the National Fraud Authority.

These will be passed on to the police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

You can also contact your local trading standards office.

The Metropolitan Police's Economic and Specialist Crime Command runs Operation Podium which looks to close down such websites.

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