Ryan Hill has just clicked ‘confirm’ while buying tickets for a gig at Hull Social Club when a notification on his phone makes his blood run cold. It’s from his bank, letting him know that £426 has left his account – but he’d only agreed to pay £90.
It’s November 2021 – Black Friday, to be precise – and the 23-year-old finance worker from Hull is treating himself to concert tickets to see folk singer Jamie Webster in February. He’s put six in his basket, for him and five friends.
But what started as something to look forward to for the new year has rapidly turned into something sinister. He rings ViaGoGo, the site he used to book the tickets, only to be told there’s nothing they can do as it was a third party site. And without screenshots as proof, there was nothing his bank could do either.
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Ryan isn’t alone – he’s one of thousands of music and sports lovers duped out of nearly £4m last year by crooks cashing in on the rush to book events as Covid-19 restrictions eased. Figures released by Action Fraud reveal that nearly 5,000 people reported being conned online buying concert tickets last year – nearly a third of those (27 per cent) were people in their twenties like Ryan.
“I felt pretty sick when I realised what had happened, if I’m honest,” Ryan told Hull Live. “This was more than £400 – I don’t have that money to lose, especially seeing as it was coming up to Christmas at the time.
“Those three months between losing my money and the concert were really stressful. The tickets didn’t arrive until the day before so I didn’t know if I’d even get them until the last minute.”
Unlike many scams which lure victims in with false promises of tickets to huge in-demand events, Ryan’s luckily did at least send real tickets for the gig. He managed to make up for some of the cash stolen from his account by selling them on to friends at a profit, clawing back around £175.
Some 4,982 people fell victim to ticket fraud in the 2021/22 financial year. Action Fraud, the country’s reporting centre for all fraud and cyber crimes, says it received 623 calls in September alone last year – the highest number since March 2020 as festivals and events began to operate again as normal for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The overall cost of these scams last year amounted to £3.8m, with the average loss per victim standing at £750. For many, that’s half a month’s wages.
One victim lost £900 after finding someone on Twitter selling a ticket to the Euro 2020 final. The victim contacted the suspect who showed proof of the ticket. The victim transferred the money to the suspect and, as soon as the money was gone, the seller deleted their account.
Another victim lost over £150 after they saw an advert for tickets to a concert, Action Fraud said. The victim contacted the suspect who said two tickets were available and then transferred the money for the ticket. Once the suspect had received the payment, they blocked the victim.
There are many different kinds of scams, from fake adverts online to bogus sites where customers are told one price before the scammer help themselves after taking their account details. They’re all created in the same spirit of exploiting music and sports fans.
“Criminals took advantage of coronavirus restrictions being lifted last summer and targeted victims looking for tickets to high-profile sporting events and festivals,” said Detective Chief Inspector Craig Mullish from the City of London Police – the country’s force for tackling fraud.
“We have seen reports of ticket fraud rise further this year as well. Many festivals and events for the summer have already sold out, so don’t be deceived by offers on secondary ticketing websites or social media, as this is often where criminals will advertise fake tickets to popular and sold out events.”
Luckily, Ryan’s experience didn’t leave him too sour, after his girlfriend saw how upset he’d been by the sting and booked tickets for them to attend the gig as a surprise. But he says it taught him to be far more aware to be on his guard when buying tickets for events online.
“I’ve told a lot of people since then to be careful,” he added. “One of my colleagues recently paid more than she was expecting for a Coldplay gig. That was six months ago and she doesn’t know if they’ll even arrive.”
Recognise the signs
Genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details; they will also never contact you for a tax refund over text or email.
Ignore social media messages
HMRC will never contact you via WhatsApp or social media
Check the GOV.UK website
Check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams and to recognise genuine HMRC contact.
Look at examples
If you think you have received an HMRC-related phishing/bogus email or text message, you can check it against the examples published on GOV.UK.
Action Fraud says ticket buyers should keep their eyes out for signs they may be being scammed, such as unsolicited emails, texts or adverts offering unbelievably good deals. Fans should also always go through official channels or reputable vendors who are members of STAR.
Buying on credit cards or through PayPal can also make it easier to claim back your money if you think you’ve been scammed, and never pay by bank transfer.
And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is…