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How to Avoid Sports and Concert Ticket Scams

Taylor Swift fans are just the latest victims of criminals selling bogus tickets online


spinner image taylor swift performing next to a hand holding a mobile phone with an electronic concert ticket q r code showing and paper tickets behind her
Getty Images/AARP

Suburban Detroit resident Lisa Turner, 47, is a veteran concertgoer who’s been to more than 1,000 shows over the past few decades — somehow managing to find tickets to performances by wildly popular artists like Billy Joel, Elton John and the Rolling Stones. So when her teenage daughter was eager to see the hottest tour of the summer, Taylor Swift, Turner was sure she could score a few seats to one of the star’s two Detroit shows.  

First she tried using her credit card’s presale access to tickets — usually a dependable method. But with so many Swifties also on the hunt, she had no luck, even after spending hours on the website. “It was so stressful,” she recalls.

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Next, she talked to various people offering tickets on Facebook, but she wasn’t convinced they were legit, so she kept looking.

Finally, as the shows neared, Turner found a seller on Craigslist. When she talked to him on the phone, she says, “He sounded very trustworthy, and nice and personable. He didn’t give me any kind of weird vibes or anything.”

Kevin, as he called himself, even offered to send Turner a digital ticket in advance before she paid him, so she could check it out. Sure enough, she soon got a notification on her husband’s iPhone, and downloaded “a very realistic-looking ticket” into the Apple Wallet app — which Kevin claimed he needed to use because he got error messages when he used the Ticketmaster app, the usual method. 

Satisfied, Turner sent the man a total of $1,200 on an online payment app for four tickets — for her daughter and three friends — for the Friday concert.

But then, on the day of the show, she suddenly started wondering if the deal had been too good to be true. After trying unsuccessfully to verify the tickets online, she finally drove to the stadium box office. That’s where she got the bad news. “Unfortunately, these are not real,” one of the workers there told her, while also noting that the fakes were “the best we have seen.”  

Meanwhile, Kevin suddenly vanished, his phone number disconnected. 

A growth in ticket scams

It’s the sort of misfortune that many fans of live events are experiencing these days. While comprehensive statistics are elusive, reports of ticket scams (sports, concerts and other events) to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) increased from 13,168 in 2020 to 17,941 in 2021 and then slipped just slightly to 16,762 in 2022, according to BBB spokesman Josh Planos. He notes that the reports probably represent only a fraction of the actual scams. 

The scammers take advantage of the fact that paper tickets are being increasingly replaced by digital tickets, which are purchased online, downloaded into a phone app and then presented for scanning at the arena gate.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

While digital ticketing makes it easier for fans, it’s also a convenience for criminals. Instead of having to print counterfeit tickets and peddle them on a dark street corner, the scammers can sit at home and post ads for nonexistent tickets on online marketplaces. And it’s relatively easy for scammers, using consumer-grade graphic design software, to create a fake digital ticket with convincing-looking graphics, says Teresa Murray, head of the Consumer Watchdog office for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.  

They also know that many fans aren’t yet familiar with the technology. If a person hasn’t bought tickets from an online site before, and a seller provides them with a QR code, they may not realize that “there’s really no way to test it until you’re at the gate,” Planos explains.

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How do ticket scams work?

With stars such as Swift, Beyoncé and Aerosmith going on major tours this year, high demand for seats makes it tempting for people to look in unusual places for tickets and to suspend their suspicions. Those conditions create a perfect situation for scammers, experts say.

You see somebody supposedly selling tickets to this concert that’s sold out, "and your mind starts going in overdrive. You're like, 'Oh boy, I can buy tickets!’ ” explains Murray. “We’ve seen case after case of perfectly intelligent, normally skeptical people who fall for the scam because they get caught up in this euphoria.”

Anti-fraud experts say that ticket scammers often ply their trade on social media and online marketplaces such as Craigslist, which have become last-resort options for would-be concertgoers. But some brazen scammers even create entire fake ticket-selling websites of their own.

Video: Ways to Protect Yourself From Ticket Scams

“There’s a certain portion of reports coming from folks who thought they were buying a ticket from Ticketmaster, because it was a site that looked like Ticketmaster,” Planos says. “But they didn’t double-check that URL, and it was a lookalike site.”

Once a ticket scammer convinces a person to purchase a concert ticket, they’ll usually ask the target to send money through a peer-to-peer payment app such as Zelle or Venmo rather than using a credit card, according to Steve Baker, a former Federal Trade Commission official who now publishes the Baker Fraud Newsletter.

That’s when the bad stuff starts to happen. The scammer may send a counterfeit replica of the ticket, or simply disappear without sending anything at all — “a straight theft kind of deal,” as Baker explains.

How to protect yourself from ticket scammers 

Some experts recommend that music fans stick to getting their tickets from name-brand sellers such as Ticketmaster, or if they’re going to venture into the resale market, only do business with sellers who belong to the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB), an industry group that requires members to follow a code of ethics.

“If you’re dealing with a NATB member, it’s guaranteed, and if they failed to deliver that ticket, it’s not just a refund, you get 200 percent,” explains Gary Adler, NATB’s executive director and counsel.  

You can get a list of members at natb.org or at verifiedticketsource.com.

Here are some additional safety tips from Teresa Murray at U.S. PIRG.

  • Always treat someone selling tickets to a hot concert or big sports event with skepticism, since these events are likely to be sellouts.
  • If you do buy from an individual, it should be someone whom you know personally, such as a relative, close friend or coworker.
  • Unless you know a seller personally, never pay for tickets with a peer-to-peer payment service such as Zelle, Venmo, PayPal, CashApp or a wire transfer. If the person turns out to be a scammer, you won’t be able to get your money back (these apps don’t have the same consumer protections that credit cards do).  When you’re buying tickets, check a floor chart to make sure that the section and seat number actually exist.
  • If you’re buying tickets from a name-brand site such as Ticketmaster or StubHub, make sure that the URL is the correct one, and not for a look-alike site created by a scammer.  

In Michigan, Lisa Turner says that her ticket scam experience had an unexpectedly happy ending. After a local TV station aired a news story about the girls having to miss the Friday concert, she got a call from the company managing Swift’s tour, informing her that an anonymous benefactor was willing to give them four free tickets to the Saturday show.

What to do if you are a victim of a ticket scam

  • File a local police report.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, or by phone at 877-382-4357.
  • Report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov.

Listen to this episode of AARP’s podcast The Perfect Scam to hear more on Lisa Turner’s experience with a Taylor Swift ticket scam.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.