CHICAGO — Erick Osorio covered all his bases when he bought a Lollapalooza four-day pass from a scalper on Facebook.
He asked for references for his would-be supplier. He used Paypal so that he'd be able to track his purchase and, if necessary, file a fraud claim. He scoured the man's profile and friends for anything shady.
He still got scammed.
Osorio, a military police officer who doubles as a professional photographer for music festivals, made his payment last month, expecting to be mailed the pass within days. Weeks later, the dealer flew off the radar.
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"Some guys had vouched for him, but...those must have been his friends who were covering for him," Osorio said. "After this happened I got 13 different messages from different people saying he'd done the same thing to them."
Stories like Osorio's abound, and they unfold in new and diverse ways every summer. As a regular festival-goer, Osorio said he's seen scammers grow more sophisticated over time.
Steve Buzil, who's worked as a licensed ticket broker since 1987, agreed, saying he's seen the counterfeit industry balloon into an slick criminal enterprise since he got started.
"The printing technology has gotten to the point where you can't even tell the difference between a fake ticket and a real one," Buzil said. "And with a general admission concert, where you're buying a patch of grass instead of a seat, they're that much harder to track."
Between their combined years of dealing with counterfeiters and festivals, Buzil and Osorio offered up a crash course on how to avoid being duped by an unofficial ticket vendor.
If you're going to buy online, stick with a ticket broker site, not social media.
This is the lesson Osorio learned the hard way. Vendor community sites like Stubhub aren't ironclad, he said, but they're much more reliable than trying to find a cheap deal on Facebook or Craigslist.
Otherwise, "It's pretty much going to be the luck of the draw, no matter what," Osorio said.
Some sites, like Buzil's Sitclose.com, boast reliable track records for vetting vendors who use them. On Stubhub, anyone who's caught selling a fake can be "flagged" or banned.
"Even Stubhub doesn't know for 100 percent certain who's putting stuff on their system, but at least they give you a money-back guarantee if it goes wrong," Buzil added.
Ask for references or recommendations before committing to a scalper.
Osorio got burned using social media this time, but he'd made plenty of successful purchases after reaching out through Facebook in the past, he said. But before each time, he conducted what he called a "legit check."
"If you're getting [the ticket] through a Facebook group, basically just post in that group asking if the guy is legit," Osorio said. "There's a lot you can see on Facebook that gives a sense of whether the guy looks trustworthy or normal."
While clearly not fool-proof, any personal reference will make a serious difference.
Never make a cash hand-off.
If something goes wrong with a purchase, there's no way of following up unless the buyer has some record of the transaction.
"The question you have to ask yourself every time is, 'Do I have any recourse?'" Buzil said. "If you meet a guy somewhere and hand him a wad of cash, you have no recourse. You have no way to get your money back."
Since Osorio made his purchase through Paypal, he said, he was able to file a claim to get his money back.
If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Before sticking with any one vendor, do a scan to see how their prices compare with others who are hawking the same product.
"If market value for a ticket is $250, and someone's selling it for $100, then something is wrong," Buzil said. "There's no such thing as Santa Claus."
If you're using an online payment service like Paypal, don't list your transaction as a "gift."
Some people try to avoid taxes and fees online by categorizing their purchase as a gift, Osorio said. But if the buyer doesn't get working tickets in exchange, they have no legal grounds for complaint.
"It's tempting, but it's really just an idiotic move," Orosio said of the tactic.
If you're buying a four-day pass, make sure it still has the cellophane wrapper.
Lollapalooza four-day passes are issued with a thin plastic wrapping. If someone is selling a naked ticket, it could be a sign something's up.
Insist that the scalper walk into the festival with you.
Some vendors would likely see it as an unnecessary burden, but it may not be an outrageous request, especially if you're buying an extra ticket from someone who still plans on going, Orosio said.
"Last year, I literally told the guy 'I want you to walk in line with me and stand there while I scan it,'" Orosio said. "That's the only way you get a guarantee."
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