U.K. Hit By Ticket Scams

The U.K. has been hit by two major ticket scams in one month, and the Association of Secondary Ticket Agencies’ chairman Graham Burns says one could have been stopped.

He said the fraud that left thousands of fans stranded outside events including the V Fests and the Reading and Leeds weekend could have been prevented if the authorities reacted quicker to his warnings.

He said in July he warned the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), his local trading standards office in London, and the Metropolitan Police computer crimes unit about a Web site operated by a company called SOS Master Tickets.

The SOS domain has disappeared and the business reportedly behind it may have netted about £3.5 million from sales of tickets it failed to deliver.

“I telephoned all of them and told them this site was out to fleece the public. SOS was selling tickets for under trade prices, which was a real red flag,” Burns told The Times. “They just put me off. Apparently this sort of thing isn’t a priority for them. Everyone I spoke to is now on holiday. It’s a disgrace.”

BERR has confirmed it received “several calls” complaining about the site, but a press spokesman said it’s prevented by law from commenting on whether it has or will be mounting an investigation.

A spokesman for the Met’s computer crime squad acknowledged Burns contacted the department via e-mail but contended he didn’t e-mail until August 8 and an officer called him back within a few days.

“There was some discussion about SOS and other Web sites and we’re in the process of setting up a meeting with Mr. Burns, but there are many, many hundreds of these sites and the current laws severely restrict what we can do about the ones that are based outside the U.K.,” he explained.

The Times report says SOS sold between 400 and 800 tickets to the August 16-17 V Festivals and more than 1,000 to the August 22-24 Reading and Leeds festivals, each for up to £200. SOS failed to provide any tickets.

Burns’ revelation came as a second ticketing scandal rocked the U.K. market. Xclusive Tickets filed for liquidation after failing to deliver any of the 18,000 tickets it sold for the Reading and Leeds festivals, V Festivals and the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Lane Bednash of insolvency experts Valentine and Co., who has previously dealt with the bankruptcies of Elite Ticket Shop and Ticket Tout, said music fans may lose out by an amount “not dissimilar” to the £3.5 million SOS cost them.

“What really gets me most is that it’s millions of pounds that won’t find its way back into the music industry,” said Festival Republic chief Melvin Benn, who promotes Reading and Leeds.

He said one of the main problems with investigating and prosecuting the people behind rogue sites is that local trading standards authorities don’t have any power beyond their boundaries. It’s difficult to stop domains registered abroad.

Burns said he believes the law will change and make it harder for these sites to sell tickets.

“If anything the crooks have realised the writing is on the wall,” he said, suggesting those who have taken as much as £7 million out of the ring are trying to grab as much as possible while they can.

Bednash, who’s calling a meeting of Xclusive’s creditors for September 9, said 4,329 people who bought tickets from the company have been left out of pocket.

As many as 1,730 of them, including the mother of double-Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington, reportedly bought tickets for the Olympics, 1,682 for either Leeds or Reading, and 917 for the V Fests.

U.K. fans don’t look to have suffered as much as the rest of the world, as only 169 are on Xclusive’s creditors’ list.

Of the rest, 803 were from the U.S., 182 from mainland Europe, 116 from Australia, 177 from China and Hong Kong and 94 from Canada.