U.K. Nervous Over Olympic Tickets

The U.K. government is showing signs of getting jittery about touts and fraudsters making a killing from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

One in 10 people who buy concert or sports tickets online have been ripped off by fake sites, according to the latest figures from the Office of Fair Trading, which has just set up another initiative to help protect the ticket-buyers from the fraudsters.

The “Just Tick It” campaign announced Sept. 10 provides ticket-buyers a checklist to help them work out whether a ticket Web site is genuine.

Apparently based on the premise that if something looks too good to be true then it probably is, the OFT site checklist warns fans to find out how long an online ticket seller has been operating, see what others are saying about the site online and make sure the site is contactable by phone.

“If they give a phone number, call it before you book anything,” the OFT site warns, telling ticker-buyers to make sure the site has a refund policy if something goes wrong. It also advises ticket-buyers to report any problems to the police and to get a crime reference number. It points out that anyone spending more than £100 should pay by credit card because it provides protection against fraud.

Although the government has banned the resale of tickets for events of national importance including the 2012 Olympics, it appears to be getting nervous about its ability to enforce it.

The reselling of Olympic tickets for huge profit and fans complaining they’ve been ripped off by bogus online sellers would likely be an embarrassment to a government that turned down the chance to regulate the secondary market.

It may also reduce the U.K.’s chances of hosting future international sports events, such as the World and European soccer competitions and rugby football finals.

In 2008 an estimated 30,000 people in the U.K. bought tickets for music events from fraudulent sites, which collectively cost them more than £10 million ($16.7 million).

This is the second ticket initiative the OFT has launched this summer, following the July 25 announcement that fans will have less chance of being ripped off if they buy from a company that has the Society of Ticket Agent Retailers’ “STAR” logo.

STAR members, which claim to sell more than 30 million tickets a year, include Ticketmaster, The Ticket Factory, Encore Tickets, TKTS, lovetheatre.com, lastminute.com, Live Nation and Cameron Mackintosh Limited.

The Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (ASTA) – the resale sites’ organisation – was quick to support the OFT’s “Just Tick It” initiative, having already lobbied it to adopt its own “Kite Mark” scheme in the way it’s endorsed the STAR logo.

Eric Baker – head of top resale site Viagogo – is making it clear that he doesn’t think either of the schemes amount to much.

Having dismissed the STAR initiative as window dressing, the Viagogo chief is taking a similar stance on the “Just Tick It” campaign. He grabbed the chance to claim that his company has spent the last three years advising fans on how to avoid getting ripped off in the secondary market.

Viagogo’s client list includes some of the country’s biggest names in sports and entertainment including Chelsea and Manchester United football clubs, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group Festival Republic and more recently Leeds and Reading Festivals, which turned to Baker’s company after a glut of fake tickets flooded the market in 2008.

Festival Republic chief Melvin Benn says last year 5,000 people were turned away from the events because their tickets were not valid.

“People are often quite desperate to get tickets to a fast-selling concert. They get excited and when they see a site’s guaranteeing a ticket, they jump in,” explained OFT spokesman Mike Haley.

Apparently unsure if it can do much to prevent fraudsters from setting up sites to sell fake or non-existent tickets, the government now seems to be embarking on a parallel strategy aimed at stopping fans from buying them.