A website boasting rave reviews of the Fort Worth Opera was selling tickets to La Traviata at Bass Concert Hall in Austin as part of a national tour, and some music lovers were excited to attend.
The only issue was: The tour and the tickets it was selling were fake.
“Patrons were contacting us saying they did not receive the attachment because the third-party seller was not providing that, and that was the way we found out,” Chris Robinson, senior manager of design and digital content at the Fort Worth Opera, said. “When we started doing research, we discovered this was happening (on) many, many websites and it was kind of a surprise. It has happened before, but the scale of it and the markup was unbelievable.”
They discovered some third-party websites reselling opera tickets, some for a going rate of about $150 a ticket when their own box office had seats available for $22; other websites were selling opera tickets to events that didn’t exist at all.
But it’s hard to know the scale of the issue.
“If a patron overpays for a ticket, they get the ticket from the scalper and the ticket is legitimate, then they will attend the performance, and we will never know that that patron paid a large amount of money,” Robinson explained. “The only times that we ever find out is if there is some type of issue with the tickets.”
One of the websites used a URL that was very close to Bass Performance Hall’s legitimate web address. The difference was just “TX” tacked on the end, and that’s not the only detail that was designed in a way that could easily dupe people trying to multitask or scrolling quickly on their phone.
The website embedded a legitimate video from Fort Worth Opera’s Youtube channel. A photo celebrating the opera’s 75th anniversary season was pasted at the top of the page. “La Traviata,” the opera the site was advertising, coincided with the production that Fort Worth Opera was actually staging this season.
They also listed a seating chart, other upcoming events, nearby hotel accommodations and a legitimate phone number that rings through to Bass Concert Hall in Austin.
But other details were off. The rave reviews that allegedly came from The New York Times had grammatical errors and could not be found elsewhere online. The Twitter account associated with the site’s page has been suspended and a link to its Facebook page is listed as unavailable.
The site has a disclaimer page, which discloses it is independent from the venue. However, that same page goes on to state, “We were tired of paying for vastly overpriced tickets so we use this website to promote what we know to be the best secondary ticket marketplace on the internet.”
Scam ticketing websites do pop up occasionally, but they typically have a short shelf-life, Kirk Wakefield, a professor of retail marketing and executive director of the Center for Sports Strategy and Sales at Baylor, said.
“They use names very similar to the primary sellers and if buyers aren’t careful they may buy, thinking it’s from the primary seller,” he wrote over email. “However, I’ve not seen nearly as many as a few years ago. The way paid search works on Google, these kinds of sellers can’t last long because of the Google algorithms.”
Performing Arts Fort Worth, Inc., which owns and operates Bass Performance Hall, tries to tamp down on resellers by limiting the number of tickets that can be purchased by one IP address and by holding tickets of suspected resellers at the “Will Call’ booth of the box office until the day of the show.
“Third-party ticket brokers have always been an issue for the entertainment industry, and we are no exception,” Erica Ludwig, the group’s content and communications manager, said in an email. “We do the best we can to educate patrons, so they are buying directly from us.”
Scott Dunagan, director of communications and marketing for Texas Ballet Theater, said that while he isn’t aware of fake tickets being an issue for the ballet, it does experience resellers.
“The biggest concern we have is it’s not really as much about communicating with them for marketing purposes, it’s about giving them updates on the performance and staying in communication with them about anything that maybe may come up,” Dunagan said. “ If we do something (that) aligns with performances for our ticket holders, they won’t know about it.”
For example, if a performance is canceled, postponed or if there is a photo opportunity for families, they don’t have a way to get in touch with those patrons to notify them in advance.
“Our box office always has the best prices on tickets. And, you know, they’re authentic,” Dunagan stated. “That’s the key thing.”
Amy Rasor, the Fort Worth regional director of the Better Business Bureau, said it did not receive any local complaints regarding ticket scams within the past year and there were relatively few reports across the state. She did note that in the few complaints they do have, consumers typically report hundreds of dollars lost.
The Better Business Bureau issued guidance for how to best avoid scams, including buying directly from the box office when possible and knowing the refund policy up front.
Right now, two of the scam websites selling fake Fort Worth Opera tickets are still up online, but the faked events are now listed as postponed or canceled.
“We feel very bad because patrons just want to see the opera, and we produce opera because we want people to see it,” Robinson said. “And we try to make the tickets as accessible as possible. We’ve had our lowest ticket price, just $22 for La Traviata. And I feel terrible when someone pays over $100 for a seat that we would have provided for $22.”
When possible, Robinson said, his group tries its best to accommodate patrons who were duped into paying high prices for seats in the back of the auditorium, but it’s not always possible because, after all, they hope to sell out.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.