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Scam Alert: Swearing-In Swindle

As Barack Obama prepares to make history on Jan. 20, scammers are already making their own—with offers to sell pricey tickets to the presidential inauguration ceremony.

Don’t buy it. “Any website or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth,” warned Howard Gantman, director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, in a prepared statement. “We urge the public to view any offers of tickets for sale with great skepticism.”

Authentic inauguration tickets—an estimated 240,000 of them—have not yet been released. When they are, they are supposed to be free, and are available to citizens only through their U.S. senators and representatives. Those elected officials will not distribute their allocation until about one week before the inauguration. The tickets will provide coveted access to bleacher seats along the inaugural parade route, set to follow Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol, where Obama will be sworn into office. Street-level viewing spaces are free and do not require tickets (although some scammers are trying to sell those as well).

The rush to sell bogus tickets (some priced as high as $20,000) began within days of the Nov. 4 election, prompting warnings from federal officials, the Better Business Bureau and state attorneys general.

Web marketer eBay announced it would remove all such postings from its site, where asking prices had ranged from $1,950 to $7,500 per ticket. But other websites are still advertising tickets; some dubious online ticket brokers even promise a “money-back” guarantee if they don’t deliver.

Again, the word is buyer beware. “Considering these online brokers won’t even know for certain they have tickets until just before the inauguration, an American looking to be a part of history might travel all the way to Washington and spend Jan. 20 watching the swearing-in from their hotel room,” Steve Cox, a Better Business Bureau spokesman, said in a press statement.

Your best bet to snag bleacher tickets? Contact your U.S. senator or representative. But be advised: Many have already received thousands of requests. For more information, visit the website of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.  If you already have purchased online inauguration tickets, consider filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).

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