CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s a billion dollar industry and growing, but so are the challenges for consumers buying tickets on line from secondary brokers.
CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman exposes a new way these online ticket brokers are leaving concert-goers stranded at the gate.
It happened to Steve Derkacy, a Bob Seger fan who wanted to see him one last time at Seger’s farewell concert last October at the United Center.
He paid more than $1,000 for six tickets he found on a website called Verified Seats. But when his group got to the gate, he said, “The last two of us tried to scan our tickets, and the ticket taker said: ‘No, this is invalid. It’s been scanned 20 minutes prior.'”
Those two seats were already taken by Cindy Rodriguez and her sister, who are also Bob Seger fans.
“Somebody that I wanted to see for so long,” Rodriguez recalled. “He was one of the people on my bucket list.”
Rodriguez’s boss bought her tickets from StubHub as a gift. They were the exact same seats Steve had, purchased more than three months earlier from Verified Seats.
Zekman: “If they had gotten there first, you would have been out in the cold,” Zekman said.
Rodriguez: “Yes, I knew right away that surely that could have happened to us.”
Derkacy purchased two additional seats and watched the concert but later demanded that Verified refund him the $458 for the two tickets that didn’t work.
That’s when the run-a-round began.
Verified said they needed a letter of “denied admission” from the United Center in order to refund the money.
The United Center refused, citing their policy to only issue that document if the tickets were purchased directly from their box office or ticketmaster.
Steve then challenged the credit card charges, but Verified objected because somebody did use the tickets — that somebody just wasn’t Steve Derkacy.
“It says on their website: ‘Total satisfaction is guaranteed. And your tickets are guaranteed to get you access to the venue. We guarantee that,'” Derkacy said. “I can’t seem to collect on that guarantee.”
Verified pointed to a document consumers agree when they buy the tickets. Steve says he never saw it. Among other things it says, “No refunds unless a concert is canceled.”
That’s not surprising to Steve Bernas who heads the Chicago Better Business Bureau.
Verified Seats has 70 complaints with the BBB — things like selling invalid tickets or over-priced tickets and consumers getting the wrong seats, resulting in an “F” rating.
“A lot of times with these ticket brokers is that the big print giveth and the little print taketh away,” Bernas said, “and consumers are not reading fully what they’re getting themselves into.”
“I believe that as a consumer that there’s a flaw in the ticketing system that allows two completly different parties to buy the same tickets,” Derkacy said.
So how exactly can this happen?
Once a ticket gets re-sold in the secondary marketplace — not by the original venue like the United Center — it should be blocked from ever being sold again. But that doesn’t work unless the re-seller opts into using an on-line clearinghouse.
And that program is strictly voluntary and only works if ticket re-sellers use it.
Otherwise, the process turns into a race to the gate. Whoever gets to the venue first, gets the seats.
That had Tammy Walczyk singing the same tune as Steve last year. She’s a big Jason Isbell fan.
“I just like his whole life story and I love his music,” Walczyk said.
She paid $320 for two tickets to see Isbell at Northerly Island.
“When we went to the main gates and they scanned them, and to our surprise, they were invalid,” Walczyk recalled.
Once again, Verified Seats refused to refund her $320 saying her tickets were scanned an hour before she got there. She sent the company her parking ticket with the time on it as proof.
“So someone else must have purchased the same seats and were able to scan in before we did,” Walczyk said.
“All consumers who are buying tickets online, they expect that to be their only ticket and to have access to it — whether they come five minutes early, a half hour late or an hour late. So that’s a concern to the Better Business Bureau,” Bernas said.
Zekman: “What do you think is going on here?”
Walczyk: “Best case scenario, they just don’t honor their guarantee. Worst case, they’re fraudulent and are selling tickets they know are not usable.”
We were unable to reach anyone from Verified Seats to respond to this story.
Now the Better Business Bureau warns consumers should always try to buy tickets at the box office.
And if you get turned away at the gate because someone else has the same seats, be sure to get proof written proof right there that your tickets were deemed to be “invalid.”
Bernas also warned that consumers should know that prices on the secondary market are typically much higher than at the box office because of service fees and other additional charges.
And when you are dealing with a secondary broker or reseller they may be selling you tickets “on spec” meaning they don’t actually have the tickets and when they get them the tickets may not be for the seats you thought you were getting.
If you have complaints about ticket brokers you can contact the following agencies or organizations:
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is at 1-877-FTC HELP (382-4357). Or you can file a complaint on line at FTC.gov/complaint.
Also the Better Business Bureau 312-832-0500 or BBB.org to file a complaint online.
Meanwhile, a U.S. House subcommittee is now investigating the need for stronger regulations to curb the abuses we found.