How to avoid getting scammed on playoff tickets

Now that many in Chicago have caught the red fever, tickets to Hawks and Bulls home playoff games are in high demand.

Secondary markets such as StubHub, eBay, Craigslist and other ticket brokers will be trying to unload their tickets, and it's likely scalpers outside the United Center will, too. But how will fans make sure they don't get duped into buying counterfeits, and what should they do if they end up with fakes?

It's a question Kate O'Hara recently faced.

O'Hara made a last-minute decision to go with her roommate to see Theresa Caputo, star of the TLC show "Long Island Medium," at the Chicago Theatre on April 13. They checked StubHub and saw tickets for at least $100 each but found cheaper tickets for $75 on Craigslist the day of the event.

"We figured someone couldn't go last minute and maybe wanted to sell them for whatever they could get," said O'Hara, 25, of Lincoln Park.

They talked to the seller and agreed to meet him 45 minutes before showtime at a South Loop Dunkin' Donuts to buy three tickets. He was late, leaving them only 15 minutes until showtime.

They quickly glanced at the tickets, which were printed on thick paper with perforated edges. O'Hara and her roommate thought they looked legitimate and handed him $225 in cash, she said.

"Looking back, I should not have been so naive and realized this was all part of his plan," O'Hara said. "I would never do that to somebody. This guy looks me in the eye and takes my money and knows in 10 minutes I'm going to be pissed off when the barcode doesn't work."

When they tried to enter the theater, the barcodes on the tickets did not scan properly. Upon closer inspection, O'Hara said the font printed on the tickets wasn't consistent, and the copy on the back of the ticket stub was blurry.

In hindsight, O'Hara said, "It felt funny when doing it, but we were in such a rush that our instincts didn't catch up with our actions." She said she would advise others to "slow down and let your instincts catch up with logic" to help avoid getting scammed.

O'Hara said she filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, the Illinois Attorney General and the FBI.

O'Hara never encountered a problem using Craigslist before. She found her apartment, bought concert tickets and sold items through the site. But she said for tickets, she'll opt for more reputable sellers.

"Taking time to do research before spending a large sum of money on playoff tickets is crucial," Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Chicago and Northern Illinois, said in a statement. "When searching for tickets, it is easy to become blinded by what looks like a good deal."

The BBB and Illinois Attorney General's Office suggest making sure the ticket broker is licensed in Illinois, is a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers, and provides clear transaction terms, such as whether tickets are guaranteed and what the broker's refund policy is.

The Hawks, for example, point to Ticketmaster and the NHL Ticket Exchange by Ticketmaster as the "official" place to buy tickets. The exchange, which allows for the resale of tickets at market prices, electronically validates the bar codes on tickets using Ticketmaster's verification technology to make sure tickets are authentic.

StubHub said it aims to protect buyers with its guarantee to try to find replacement tickets or give a refund for the tickets if the ones bought and ordered through its site are invalid.

Craigslist states on its site that it isn't involved in any transaction and doesn't provide buyer protection.

More than 130 complaints were filed and more than 32,000 consumers contacted the Chicago BBB in the past year for pre-purchase information about companies in the "Ticket Sales – Events" category.

The BBB urges buyers not to pay for tickets in cash or with a wire payment. Instead, they should pay with a credit card if they need to later dispute the charge. Also, users should avoid sites that lack privacy, refund and cancellation policies or fail to provide contact information.

Ticket buyers should also verify the location of the seats on a venue seating chart to make sure they exist and are not obstructed, and check several site to compare prices and ticket availability, the BBB said.

"The most common way sports fans are getting scammed online is by either paying for counterfeit tickets or tickets that never arrive," Bernas said. "If something seems too good to be true, it most likely is."

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