Earlier this week I was happy to again join The Morning Amp with Molly Adams and Ernest Wilkins, pinch hitting for the West coast gallivanting Brian Babylon. Thanks, Cash Money Tuesday!
Here’s what I found:
- Scammers used a bait and switch coupon code to fool both the 3rd party ticketing agent – Ticketleap out of Philadelphia – and the customers. (I misspoke during the Vocalo interview and said TicketFly.) When the scammers had customers calling in to verify their credit card information, it was like they were handing over cash, more or less. The scammers directly charged the customers using a Square and they also put through the transaction via Ticketleap with coupon codes. As transactions came in, this showed Ticketleap that a sale had been made (for $0) and then they sent the customers a legit PDF ticket. Ticketleap said they had a record of about 50 tickets sold like this. This strategy bought the scammers time to avoid being detected and allow them to slip in a second charge to customers since a credit history was already established it would be less likely to be caught by the credit card company (as they did to my friends).
- The Chicago Tribune (parent company of the RedEye, where the scammers advertised) sent a statement:
“The sales rep working with the Crab & Beer Festival vetted the advertiser as best she could via online research – visiting their website, Facebook page, EventBrite page, and even noticed they were running a Groupon. Unfortunately, all promotional parties were duped, as was the general public. We received a Facebook comment about the event and immediately pulled the ads. Thankfully, due to the power of social media, it seems that several consumers interested in the event learned of the issues prior to purchasing tickets and those who had already purchased are hopefully receiving refunds. It’s a shame this sort of thing is out there and we will continue to monitor our ads appropriately.”
- Groupon pulled the scammy deal once they were getting feedback from users, but they just marked it as ‘expired’ — instead of pulling it entirely or explaining the fraud anywhere. Here’s what Groupon said:
It appears there was a miscommunication between the event promoter and the venue where the event was to be held.
When we were notified of the issue we canceled the deal and proactively notified our customers on how they could receive a refund, nearly a month ago.
We always have our customers best interests at heart and want them to have a phenomenal Groupon experience. If any of your viewers purchased this Groupon and still need a refund, they should contact us at www.groupon/com/support.
- Zhou Brothers Gallery (venue printed on the ticket) did have contact with the fraud company – so an actual event was tentative – but when the scammers didn’t sign a contract or pay up, the contract was canceled. They did have some people calling and showing up for the event.
- McCormick Place (venue that was advertised) never had any food festival event on the books or in talks.
- The Crab & Beer Fest folks didn’t reply to repeated attempts by email and phone, unsurprisingly.
The best part: My friends have been credited by Chase for the full amount! Hooray!
Here’s the next-to-best part: Crazy enough, this is a scam these folks have been pulling across the country. I initially thought their ‘national tour’ schtick was to give legitimacy and cool factor to the festival. Thanks to the Facebook page for the event, I found others who were likewise lured with promises of craft beer and crabs in Los Angeles and Memphis. In Los Angeles, the scammers managed to get themselves named one of the “Top 3 Events” on the LA weekly blog’s Eat & Drink Calendar. The scammers even did a walk through of the event venue, and went so far as to contract services with waitstaff companies and musicians. So these musicians and waitstaff showed up at the venue and didn’t even get paid for work that day. Now as a former server and former musician, that — THAT IS SO MESSED UP.
I want to thank my friends, Sebastian and Trista, again for sharing their experience with me, as well as the businesses above, and the fellow foodies I corresponded with in Chicago, Los Angeles and Memphis.
p.s. If you didn’t hit PLAY on that SoundCloud, do that. We also get into scams on Kickstarter, including one of the biggest almost-scams in that crowdfunding company’s history: Kobe Beef Jerky!!
And you, Golden Ticket, Oakland Land Redevelopment Company, Big Beer Tour — whoever is the real you behind the facades of Groupons, TicketFly and EventBrite, and other legitimate businesses like local venues and newspapers — we are on to you. Don’t mess with people and their beer, crab or money.