Ticket fraudsters should face the music

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US singer Bruno Mars performs at the MTV Europe Music Awards (EMA) on November 6, 2016 at the Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam.  /
If you tried — and failed — to buy tickets last week to the big Bruno Mars concerts coming to Rogers Arena next summer, welcome to the club.

But there’s another club Vancouver police are already warning people against joining: the legions of fans certain to get burned by fake tickets.

The Bruno Mars tour is one of the hottest attractions on the planet, selling an amazing one million tickets in a single day, according to Billboard Magazine.

Demand was so high in Vancouver that promoters added a second Rogers Arena show that sold just as fast on the Live Nation box-office website.

Within minutes of selling out on that site, Bruno Mars tickets were being hustled at inflated prices on other sites such as Craigslist.

That’s where the cops come in, warning many of the secondary-market tickets will be fake.

“There is a very high likelihood that if you buy Bruno Mars tickets on Craigslist, those will be fraudulent tickets,” said VPD Sgt. Randy Fincham.

“They’re basically laser-printer copies. You’re going to arrive at the concert, go to the gate and the tickets are not going to work.”

It’s a warning Fincham has become accustomed to issuing.

“There are people out there scamming every major event,” he said. “That’s why we recommend that if you buy after-market tickets, buy from a major ticket broker who offers a money-back guarantee.”

But why should fans have to pay through the nose at all? It seems every popular show sells out instantly and fans have little choice but to pay big bucks to a scalper and hope the tickets are real.

Those aren’t the only problems plaguing the industry. There’s automatic ticket-buying software, called bots, that scoop up the best tickets for resale at inflated prices.

And there’s the growing suspicion of a lucrative insiders’ racket, where tickets are deliberately held back from sale to the general public and sold instead on affiliated websites for grossly marked-up prices.

Some governments have seen enough and are moving to protect consumers.

About 20 states have banned ticket-buying bots, threatening fines and jail time for people caught using the software. Ontario is set to follow suit, promising provincial legislation against bots in the new year.

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says British Columbia should also take action.

“Absolutely, let’s ban the bots — that’s something we could easily do here,” he said. “But that’s just one step. We could do more.”

Chandra Herbert is calling on the B.C. government to appoint a provincial task force to review the entire ticket-selling industry and recommend changes to protect consumers.

“Give us six months,” he said. “Let’s pull together fans, artists, sports companies, promoters, ticket sellers, ticket re-sellers — everyone who has an interest — and let’s craft solutions to make this fair for everyone.”

But the government of Christy Clark does not want to get involved.

“The province is not planning legislation on ticket re-sales,” Solicitor General Mike Morris’s office said in a statement.

“We believe the artists, promoters and others in the industry have a collective role and responsibility to find ways to ensure tickets are available on an equitable basis for the fans who want to attend the event.”

But what if the artists, promoters and other industry players are in on the reselling game themselves?

Ticket broker Kingsley Bailey said the biggest problem in the industry is the lack of transparency around how many tickets are actually offered for sale to the general public at fair prices.

“How many tickets are being held back by promoters and ticket companies and sold on other websites as ‘VIP tickets’ at increased prices?” asks Bailey, owner of Vancouver Ticket.

“That’s a conflict-of-interest and deceptive.”

A recent investigation by New York state found the insider ticket trade is huge.

“Over half of the available tickets are either put on ‘hold’ and reserved for a variety of industry insiders including the venues, artists or promoters, or are reserved for ‘pre-sale’ events and made available to non-public groups, such as those who carry particular credit cards,” said a report by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

With so many complex and overlapping problems, an easy solution seems impossible — unless you think like Alan Gelfand.

“The government should step in and create one simple rule that would fix everything: No one is allowed to resell a ticket unless they can prove the ticket is authentic,” said Gelfand, founder and CEO of Vancouver’s Fair Ticket Solutions.

Gelfand’s company has proposed a mandatory ticket-selling system where buyers and sellers would be required to register and “check in.” Only authenticated tickets could then be bought and sold on a “grid” that would operate like the stock market.

“The ticket is guaranteed, the consumer is protected and fraud is eliminated,” he said. “With the system we have now, people are forced to take risks because there are no regulations and no consumer protection.”

He gets frustrated when he hears politicians talking about banning ticket-buying bots as a solution to scalping, fraud and insider profiteering.

“A bot ban is a good political move because consumers want to hear someone say they’re looking out for them,” he said. “But it’s useless for actually solving the problem.”

The B.C. government, though, shows no interest in banning bots — or taking any other direct action to protect vulnerable consumers in a wild-west ticket market.