The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is urging patrons to buy tickets directly from its website or box office after it lost $10,000 to online ticket scammers during its recent production of The Nutcracker.
RWB spokesperson Jocelyn Unrau said criminals used stolen credit card numbers to buy tickets, then sold them to unwitting customers through online resale platforms.
“Luckily, we were able to manage things, and we never had to turn somebody away,” she said.
“But I think it’s well known that sometimes when you buy from third-party sites that it can result in the tickets not being valid anymore or there’s two people in a seat.”
She said the problem is getting so bad, the ballet is now reserving blocks of seats so those who bought illegitimate tickets can still attend the show.
But she said that courtesy takes “a huge financial toll” on the RWB since it doesn’t get any revenue from those seats, while the credit card companies send them “charge backs” to cover the thefts.
Unrau said the $10,000 in bills represents a record number of charge backs for the world-renowned dance company.
She said some of the sales were even traced to an imposter website called winnipegnutcracker.org, which is now offline.
“It’s getting really hard for arts organizations who are already doing their best to make our budgets meet,” said Unrau.
Unrau said the RWB is trying to take measures to cancel fraudulent tickets, and help third-party platforms identify criminal accounts.
But the ballet is also pleading with patrons to buy tickets locally.
“Winnipeg is really lucky to have a lot of arts organizations that have their own box offices,” said Unrau, adding that buying directly from these groups creates local jobs and offers a higher level of customer service.
“As much as possible, just go to the organizations’ websites and buy tickets directly from them to ensure that they’re going to be valid, and that you’re getting the best price.”
A growing problem
Technology analyst Carmi Levy said online fraud using stolen credit card numbers is becoming more common.
“The criminal element is getting better at using technology to its advantage,” he said.
“There’s a certain window between the time stolen card numbers are reported and the time that you can stop making purchases on that account,” Levy said.
“The thief takes advantage of that, and very quickly goes to a concert website, buys a whole block of tickets, then resells them at a profit.”
He said it’s often the vendors and customers who are left footing the bill.
“This is a case where everybody points their fingers at everyone else and tries to get everyone else to pay for it,” Levy continued.
“Certainly the financial services industry, particularly credit card companies and payment processors, could and should be doing more to secure their platforms against this kind of fraud,” he said.
While the RWB spokesperson was unsure exactly which third-party sellers were involved in stolen credit card ticket sales for The Nutcracker, the online ticket vendor Eventbrite said it is trying to prevent these sorts of crimes.
“Our platform enables anyone to create an event and we have a dedicated team who actively monitors for fraudulent activity,” said an Eventbrite spokesperson.
“We take unauthorized selling very seriously and our policy is to remove event creators and their events when we become aware of it.”
Meanwhile, Levy said arts organizations also have to be proactive.
“They should be sitting down with a professional to ensure that their IT infrastructure is as resilient as it can be against this kind of event,” he said, adding that arts groups also need to regularly scan the web to guard against phoney sites impersonating them to sell tickets.
On the customers’ side, Levy said while financial information can be compromised in security breaches, consumers can also take measures to better protect their credit cards by avoiding storing the numbers online, and not taking photos of their cards, as those images can end up online.
“You’ve got to treat your credit card number as if it’s gold in Fort Knox,” he said.