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How to avoid being ripped off when you buy tickets online

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At the beginning of 2020, theatre and concerts goers were probably aware of Viagogo, a website where tickets are sold at inflated prices to unsuspecting buyers. The previous year it had been banned from Google, and 
I hadn't noticed until recently that it is in business again.

Trying to buy tickets to a Sydney performance of the children's show PAW Patrol, I clicked on the first website listed. I was surprised that in whatever section the tickets were available, the price was over $130 each. For an hour-long children's show I couldn't believe this was right. And that's when I realised Viagogo was back.

The official site, Ticketek, was offering tickets from $29.90 to $76.35 (for a VIP package).

Dave Le'aupepe of Gang Of Youths performs during Splendour in the Grass 2016 on July 23, 2016 in Byron Bay. In 2018 Gang of Youths started calling for ticket reseller Viagogo to be banned. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.
Dave Le'aupepe of Gang Of Youths performs at Splendour in the Grass 2016. In 2018 the band started calling for ticket reseller Viagogo to be "eradicated". Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.

Buying tickets under pressure - if an event is selling out quickly, for instance - can lead to an expensive mistake. In my case it came as a nasty surprise to find this site operating in the same old way.

In March 2017, the consumer group Choice referred Viagogo to consumer watchdog, the ACCC, and later presented it with a Shonky Award.

According to an ACCC spokesperson, in April 2019, the Federal Court found that Viagogo made false or misleading representations to consumers. It claimed to be the official seller of tickets to particular events, that certain tickets were scarce and that consumers could buy tickets for a particular price when this was not the case because significant fees, such as a 27.6% booking charge, were not disclosed until late in the booking process.

In October 2020, the court ordered Viagogo to pay $7 million for breaching the Australian Consumer Law and issued an injunction restraining it for five years from representing:
- Consumers can purchase official original tickets through the Viagogo Australian website, when it is not the case.
- Consumers can purchase tickets for a stated price on the website when they cannot do so without paying further fees.
- That only a set number or percentage of tickets are available without expressly stating that it refers only to those available through its website.

According to a Choice article published last year, "Viagogo may have toned down its pressure-selling tactics, but it hasn't exactly changed its ways."

For many reasons, it is better to buy tickets from the official seller and when you're searching online make sure you are not mistakenly taken to the wrong site.

The ACCC has published guidelines on its website to avoid being ripped off.

"We recommend that consumers buy their tickets from 'authorised sellers'. Tickets sold by authorised sellers often carry conditions that restrict their resale or transfer above face value. Promoters and venues also have conditions of entry," the ACCC says.

Buying tickets from a reseller means you could be turned away at the venue, miss out on the seats you booked, or be stuck with a restricted view, or you could miss out on a ticket altogether.

The ACCC also recommends making sure the first ticket seller that comes up in your online search is the authorised seller.

"Unauthorised sellers often maintain a strong online presence, reselling tickets at prices higher than the original ticket price," according to the ACCC website.

"Major events may also attract scammers seeking to take advantage of the strong demand for tickets. Scammers may use fake ticketing websites or email scams to make false claims about the event being part of a ticket lottery or competition. These scams will often request additional payments or personal information to secure tickets.

"If you see tickets on sale before the official date, be cautious because they might be fake."

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Julia Newbould is the managing editor of Money magazine. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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