Ticket Cheat Suspects Arrested

Five people believed to be connected with online ticket agencies suspected of scamming thousands of music and sports fans out of millions were arrested by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.

Four men and one woman, all aged between 41 and 54, were pulled in for questioning after SFO officers visited four London addresses Nov. 25.

More than 4,000 fans sent money to Xclusive Tickets to see a variety of events ranging from The Olympic Games to U.K. summer music festivals including V, Reading and Leeds. None received tickets.

The most high-profile customer was Kay Adlington, whose daughter Rebecca won Olympic gold medals in the 400-meter and 800-meter swimming events. She bought two tickets from Xclusive.

“We spent a couple of weeks searching around on the Internet, and when we came across Xclusive, it looked like a very professional organisation,” she told the Independent. “They offered us two tickets for £1,000, which might sound ridiculous but it was the best thing on offer at the time.”

Xclusive Tickets filed for liquidation after failing to deliver any of the 18,000 tickets it sold.

The U.K. was hit by two major ticket scams in August. Two weeks before Xclusive tanked, SOS Master Tickets’ domain disappeared from the Internet. The business reportedly behind it may have netted about £3.5 million from bogus tickets.

At the time, Association of Secondary Ticket Agencies (ASTA) chairman Graham Burns claimed at least one of the scams could have been stopped.

He said 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.

“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.”

The SFO is believed to be investigating whether there is any connection between SOS and Xclusive.

Kay Adlington and her husband eventually made it to Beijing to see their daughter’s medal-winning swims with the help of U.K. journalists.

They received their money back from their credit card company six weeks ago, but both have warned that “every possible measure” must be taken to stop ticket scammers from making money out of the 2012 Olympics in London.

The U.K. government is to ban the re-selling of tickets for sports and entertainment events that are of national importance, the “crown jewels,” which is likely to include the Olympics, rugby and cricket world cups as well as the Grand National and Wimbledon.

Big one-off charity concerts and events like Live 8, the Nelson Mandela concert in Hyde Park and Lady Diana’s Memorial Concert could also be included.

Lane Bednash of insolvency experts Valentine and Co., which has previously dealt with the bankruptcies of Elite Ticket Shop and Ticket Tout and is now handling the winding up of Xclusive, told Pollstar he is sending all his documentation on the company to the SFO.

“People thinking of buying tickets online should be vigilant and always check the supplier’s credentials,” said SFO director Richard Alderman. “I urge those people who bought tickets through Xclusive to come forward with information.”

It’s believed to be the first time the fraud squad has posted a questionnaire on its Web site in order to collect evidence for an investigation.

Valentine & Co. is also collecting information at www.insolvencynoticeboard.com.

Bednash said the fact that Xclusive had a U.S. operation may mean the FBI will also be investigating. The company traded as Xclusive Leisure & Hospitality Limited and Xclusive Tickets Limited.

U.S. lawyer James R. Moriarty, who flew to the U.K. for the Xclusive companies’ Sept. 9 creditors’ meeting, heard how they went down with combined debts of about £4 million.

After the meeting, Moriarty told BBC Radio 4 that it’s time the British government did something about the situation.
He became involved after he bought Beijing Olympics tickets from Xclusive and didn’t receive them.

He’s set up a Web site at beijingticketscam.com, where Moriarty is constantly collecting information. His Web page says he’s successfully represented clients in civil cases against Shell Oil, Tenet Healthcare, Prudential Securities and Marriott, among others.

In October, the U.K. papers reported that culture secretary Andy Burnham is close to launching an industry consultation on rogue ticket sellers.

They said it’s a response to calls for action from ASTA, which is concerned about the number of rogue operators that have carried out the summer’s high-profile rip-offs.

On Oct. 19, Paperticket chief John Koukoullis was bailed until Jan. 7 after appearing on fraud charges at Herford Magistrates Court.

Police shut down the company after receiving complaints from fans who paid for tickets for gigs by acts including Kings Of Leon, Barry Manilow and The Killers but didn’t receive them.

In September, ASTA announced a bond scheme to cover up to £2.5 million of customer money in the event of any of its members going bust.