Ticket Sites Break EU Rules

A survey shows that more than half the online ticketing websites monitored by European regulators appear to be breaking consumer laws.

The discovery that certain online ticketing sites don’t appear to be complying with the law is hardly news to promoters, bands or their agents, but perhaps a little more surprising is the extent of the wrongdoing.

Of the 414 sites investigated by regulators from the 27 European Union countries as well as Norway and Iceland, 247 will be probed further by enforcement authorities.

Consumer officials at the European Commission looked at sites offering tickets for concerts, festivals and sporting and cultural events.

They found many posted misleading information on prices, making bogus claims that the official sources had sold out and selling tickets for events that simply didn’t exist.

About three-quarters of the sites under scrutiny were said to include incomplete or misleading information about prices, hidden taxes and handling charges.

Other major problems included imposing unfair terms and conditions, failing to guarantee ticket delivery and making no mention of what customers should do about refunds if an event is canceled.

Other issues stemmed from incomplete or misleading information about the business selling the tickets, which occurred on about half the problem websites. In some cases, the sellers falsely claimed to be the authorised ticket agent for a particular event.

Of the 414 sites monitored, 181 had incomplete or misleading information about the price, extra charges and hidden taxes; 178 imposed unfair terms and conditions; 116 carried incomplete or misleading information about the trader – such as missing its name, address or e-mail details.

As an example of sharp practice, EU officials cited an instance in which a Slovenian paid $281 for two tickets to Italy’s Heineken Jammin Festival in 2007. The event was canceled at the last minute because a freak wind blew down eight light and sound towers and damaged the stage.

The ticket holder visited the office of the Italian firm that sold him the tickets, where he was told he couldn’t be reimbursed until the company received official notice of the cancellation. He returned a few days later and was told he was too late too apply for a refund.

The European Commission runs regular sweeps coordinated by national consumer authorities. It says on this occasion it targeted online ticketing because of the increasing number of people buying tickets online and the rise in the number of complaints it’s receiving. Last year more than 33 percent of all online purchases by consumers in the EU region were for event tickets.

The results of the sweep seem to indicate that rogue ticket traders are a pan-European problem. In the UK, 22 of 73 sites tested were flagged for further investigation, while Sweden, Spain and Belgium seem to have the most problems with touts selling tickets for non-existent events.

In Hungary – apparently the safest haven for fraudsters – Norway, Poland, Denmark, Finland and The Netherlands, almost every site checked was potentially breaking the country’s consumer protection laws.

Potential problems were identified in 10 of the 20 sites examined by the French authorities. In Germany, problems were found in 28 out of the 29 sites that came under scrutiny.

Each country’s national regulators will follow up on the results by asking the non-compliant sites to change their ways or face enforcement action, which could include being fined or even shut down.

A report on the results of the sweep and any subsequent enforcement actions is expected to be ready for EC inspection by the middle of next year. A similar exercise focused on the sale of airline tickets was shown to have significantly cleaned up the market.