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Avoid ticket sales ‘horror’ during March Madness and other events

Beware of resale sites, scalpers and other unregulated sellers while shopping for tickets to shows and big games

Paula Lambertz agreed to purchase tickets to the Slipknot concert at the 2019 Iowa State Fair for her son. While busy doing other projects, she searched the web for the tickets and clicked on a page that boldly showed “Iowa State Fair.”

Lambertz, who lives in Carroll, chose six tickets, and up came a price of $302, which she said “made perfect sense.” She kept clicking, but she never saw a final page listing the total price with fees. “Mind you, I was in a reduced screen size while I was ordering,” said Lambertz, who wears bifocals.

Then she received a text from DiscoverCard. “To my horror, I discovered that the amount I was charged was $2,362.43.”

It was then that Lambertz discovered that she was on a site called Ticketoffices.com. It’s one of many resale marketplaces that sell tickets to concerts, sporting events and theater productions. These second-party sites may appear to be official, but they often sell tickets at double or more the list price with high fees.

Lambertz’s story offers a cautionary tale to ticket buyers, especially as March Madness and other events come to town. Des Moines will host first and second round games for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament March 21-23. The Better Business Bureau regularly warns consumers about avoiding ticket scammers, scalpers and other unregulated sellers during the tournament and other big sporting events.

In fact, if you search for “March Madness” and “Des Moines” you may find sites like www.arenadesmoines.org, which says “Wells Fargo Arena Tickets” and “Des Moines Tickets” in big type. These sentences are in smaller type: “We are a resale marketplace. Prices may exceed face value. This site is not owned by any venue.”

Theater-goers can be fooled, too. One of the top Google results for “Des Moines Civic Center” is www.desmoinescenter.com — another resale marketplace. While “Hello Dolly” tickets are going for $40 to $169 on the official Civic Center site, the reseller sells tickets for up to $400 each. (The site’s operator, OnlineCityTickets.com, says it guarantees that all tickets are authentic and warns that prices may exceed face value.) 

Des Moines Performing Arts, which runs the Civic Center, warns that only tickets purchased directly from its website, or by phone or in person at the center, are guaranteed to be authentic. Tickets bought through other sources “may not be valid and you would be refused admission without refund,” its site says.

Fake tickets are often sold on online classified sites like Craigslist. That’s as risky as buying tickets from a scalper on the street. The BBB warns that scammers have become adept at designing tickets to look like the real thing and selling the same ticket, with the same bar code, repeatedly.

Whether the tickets are fake or real, you can also be out of luck if you overpay for tickets, because resale sites are not illegal. Fortunately, Lambertz is one of the lucky ones.

After purchasing the tickets on Nov. 2, she called Ticketoffices.com and asked for a refund, saying she was misled. The company declined. She then tried to dispute the charge with DiscoverCard, but she was again turned down.

She filed a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office on Dec. 11. “I feel that I was taken advantage of due to the fact that I could not see their transaction screen, which is located to the far right over a black field and I entered into a contract without full and clear details,” she said in her complaint. She also provided screen shots of her transaction and a detailed explanation of her situation.

An investigator with the Consumer Protection Division reached out to Ticketoffices.com. In a letter dated Jan. 8, the company’s legal counsel denied that reseller engaged in misleading conduct, but it agreed to refund Lambertz the full $2,362.43 “as a courtesy.”

Lambertz said she’s embarrassed by the mistake, but she hopes others learn from her experience.

By the way, she went to the official Iowa State Fair website and purchased six tickets for her 25-year-old son and his friends — and was charged $357.

Tips to shopping smart for event tickets

Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau on buying event tickets online:

Purchase from the event venue or a licensed reseller. For example, in the case of March Madness tickets, you can go directly to the NCAA site, the official Iowa Events Center website or PrimeSport.com, which has a partnership with the NCAA.

Research the reseller. Compare prices at several sources. Look up the broker at bbb.org to see reviews. Also go to VerifiedTicketSource.com to see if the reseller is a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers.

Buy only from trusted vendors. Look for the lock symbol in the web address to indicate a secure purchasing system.

Check out the refund policy. Read the sales terms, privacy policy and other information, and make sure your questions are answered. Are the details clear? Is the location of the seats represented accurately on a seating chart? How will the tickets be made available to the buyer?

Use protection when ordering. Always charge your purchase by credit card so you dispute the charges if the tickets are not as promised. Debit cards, cash and other forms of payment do not offer the same kind of protection.

If you feel you’ve been misled or defrauded, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area) or email consumer@ag.iowa.gov.

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