From front row to sold out, ticket scalpers using bots to help block fans

Ticket bots buy tickets then sell at higher costs

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Tom Petty, Bruno Mars, and Janet Jackson are some of the hottest concert tours of the year and lucky for us they're coming to Little Rock. That is, if you are lucky enough to have a ticket, which isn't as easy as it sounds.

When you think of scalpers you probably think of a guy standing outside a football stadium trying to hawk a pair of tickets, but as we progress into the digital age, scalpers have found new ways to get their hands on sought after tickets.

Modern day scalpers now have a home online, skipping the lines, scooping up all the tickets, and selling them to you at a higher cost. And "bots" are a big part of the reason these scalpers succeed at taking every last ticket.

These online tools help scalpers scoop up tickets and shut fans out before they can even consider which seat they want to pick.

One scalper using a program can process thousands of credit card numbers at a time, buy up dozens of tickets, and sell them on sites like Stubhub and Vivid Seats at a higher cost and profit.

"Scalping is something we've been worried about a long time,” said Michael Marion, General Manager at Verizon Arena. "We want the fans to get the tickets. I'm a concert-goer, the idea of somebody buying a ticket, just to sell it to somebody else is just abhorrent to me."

Verizon Arena is a Ticketmaster venue. That means, if you don't get your tickets from Ticketmaster, they could have come from a scalper looking to make a profit.

"You can actually, and you may want to do this, Google ticket bots, and there's a video on there of a guy showing how he uses his. That's how flagrant they are about it," Marion said.

Our sister station WUSA, was able to track down Ken Lowson, who is credited with being the creator of ticket bots, which landed him in federal custody for a while. Now he works to help shut down scalpers.

"So by geographically spreading our servers, one of the 30 servers we had would get all the tickets every time,” he explained. "The idea is, eliminate ticket bots and professional scalping."

10 years ago, when the Arkansas Attorney General's office sued three third-party ticket websites after tickets to a Hannah Montana concert at Verizon sold out in four minutes. Those tickets then turned up on those websites for as much as $3,000.

Former attorney general Dustin McDaniel relied on a rarely-used anti-scalping law  to investigate five different ticket sites. The outcome of that lawsuit ended with the largest of those sites agreeing not sell tickets in Arkansas, but the problem still persists today.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said they only get involved in extreme cases, like the Hannah Montana concert.

Before President Barack Obama left office, he signed the BOTS Act of 2016, which "prohibits the circumvention" of security measures and the sale of tickets obtained through such circumventions.

While the law exists, the Federal Trade Commission said nailing down the scammer is about as easy as tracking down a telemarketer.

"That's going to be one of the challenges that we will face as we move forward," explained Melissa Dickey, an attorney for the FTC. "Unfortunately this isn't going to be the type of scammer that is walking in to a bank."

One of the ways Verizon Arena is biting back against the bots is by sending your tickets directly to your phone, but only 24 hours in advance.

"It's almost like a game of whack-a-mole because you try this and the scalpers find a way to get around you,” Marion said of their fight to find a solution.

The FTC is working with sites like Ticketmaster to stop the bots.

One way is through "Ticketmaster Verify," a way of registering in advance so Ticketmaster can identify you and cross-check your credit card to be sure you're not a bot, before even selling to you. Chris Stapleton and Katy Perry are two acts that were just announced at Verizon Arena and tickets are already "available" on those third party sites before pre-sale even began.

So what can you do to steer-clear of the scams?

Marion said if you're a big fan, register for fan clubs. Many times, they get first access to tickets. You can also join Verizon Arena's "In the Know." The free subscription service will tell you when tickets go on sale and also offer pre-sales.

The last thing you can do is avoid buying tickets from third-parties sites. Buying from those sites is what keeps them in business.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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