back to article It's not your imagination: Ticket scalper bots are flooding the internet according this 'ere study

If you have attempted to buy concert or sports tickets online in the past few years, chances are that it was an enormously frustrating experience thanks to automated bots. Ticket scalps have existed since the first sell-out event, though the internet has turned them from an annoyance into a dominant force. According to new …

  1. Michael Hoffmann

    North American problem?

    I'd be curious as to why this is supposedly only a North American (US&Canada) problem?

    Why would it not be an issue in Europe or Asia (or Australia (*))? Scalpers exist anywhere popular events are staged.

    Can someone enlighten me?

    (*) maybe because in Australia, broadband Internet is so shite that the scalpers are stuck just like the rest of us. :(

    1. Mayday Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: North American problem?

      For Aussie events the bots can be hosted in some data centre in a country/AWS/Azure etc which has decent internet.

      1. Michael Hoffmann

        Re: North American problem?

        Doesn't answer my question. Why a NA problem only?

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: North American problem?

          It isn't an NA problem, it's just that most of the bots are hosted there.

          Presumably because the hosting is cheap and they don't have to care about any pesky laws or regulations.

          Also if you're competing against humans in (eg) Australia, you want to put the bots somewhere with bandwidth.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: North American problem?

        The answer to this is in the customers' own hands.

        Don't buy the bloody tickets except off the authorised site!!! FFS.

        Scalpers will go out of business if they lose money because no one buys their overpriced tickets.

        I am constantly amazed that people can get soooo desperate to see something, be it your favourite sporting event, band or other such thing, that they would pay ridiculous amounts of money just to get a ticket.

        I flatly refuse to pay anything over the list price for any tickets, no matter how much I may want to attend said function.

    2. Grikath

      Re: North American problem?

      Not "only", but vastly skewed to the northern american continent, as the numbers in the article show. A total of 85% of those bots active in the US/Canadian markets is pretty definitive.

      Europe is a big place, but here in the Netherlands there simply isn't that much of a problem with this, possibly because it's simply not commercially viable (anymore).

      For starters reselling tickets for profit is illegal, and event organisers/ticketing agencies watch this like a hawk. ( past broehaha and Bad Press may have had something to do with this..) Selling for face value or at a discount is allowed, so you can still shift tickets you may have won/got from Boss/Sponsor/Friendly Techie, but getting your hands on a decent amount of tickets, and trying to shift them at a profit is...bothersome.. Easier and more cost-effective to make and shift counterfeit tickets, which is a bigger problem over here than real-ticket privateering. Which again makes shifting real tickets harder, as people have become wary of the secondhand market in this respect.

      Another way life gets hard as a ticket-profiteer, is that the way tickets are sold severely limit the amount of tickets you can get your hands on per transaction. Because of the way we use electronic banking over here, and how things are logged in the transaction system, it's nearly impossible to make a purchase from the same bank account twice within at least 15 minutes, usually an hour, for AAA events possibly never. While IP adresses are easily spoofed, bank accounts over here aren't, so you'd have a hard time getting around that, unless you go full criminal and get involved in things that would land you a far more serious slap on the wrist than simple ticket profiteering.

      So at least over here the effort and risks far outweigh any possible profit you'd expect to make from what is essentially a low-margin illegal enterprise.

  2. VikiAi

    Round up all the scalpers,

    and scalp them?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Round up all the scalpers,

      Seeing as the act scalping to which we refer means to add something on top of the item in question, rather than taking something off the top, then I suggest we add something to the top of the scalpers.

      May I suggest we go with your icon as a theme, and make that addition a 24lb cannonball to the face.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Create an actual strategy focused entirely on fighting back against bots"

    When about 80% of tickets have been sold have an administrative error such that the first X% of tickets have been accidentally invalidated and are being refunded.

    1. Velv

      Well that’s one way to piss off even more genuine fans than currently.

      You go to the effort of being online at the right time, are lucky enough to beat the bots you know exist, and still there’s a random chance your ticket will be denied. That would be worse customer experience.

    2. Omgwtfbbqtime

      Use the Iron Maiden method - you are required to show the payment card alongside the ticket when you enter the venue as validation.

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        and if you cannot show the correct card you get put into a real Iron maiden.

        There, nailed it.

      2. Tom Chiverton 1

        Legimate fan to fan sales should still be possible. Or sites need to offer 100% no-question refunds

      3. doublelayer Silver badge

        The problem with that method is that it becomes impossible to give tickets as a gift or go as a group purchasing multiple tickets at once. Theoretically, one solution would be to send the price higher so there would be less benefit to scalpers. I can't decide if it's a good or bad thing that this hasn't happened. I suppose you could make a longer reservation system requiring some external form of identification and limiting ticket purchases, but that's another annoying solution. If only every problem was ridiculously easy to solve.

        1. Tim Hughes

          Go as a group: not impossible, merely slightly less convenient, as you have to meet up together outside first - if only people carried something around with them that would help to arrange a time and place ...

          Giving as a gift: more of a problem, but allowing the purchaser to nominate a specific name of the attendee at time of purchase (and no changes allowed after that), rather than linking to a particular payment card would help with that.

          1. David Paul Morgan

            as long as it's not last minute,

            if it's a gift, how about a proper, paper ticket with a holgram & a barcode and a nice gift card featuring the band?

            it is getting ridiculous. I only ever want to buy 2 or maybe 3 tickets for any particular event, you're lucky to get in a sales queue, then the mission-impossible countdown clock puts added pressure on, then you find, the last time you used a card on the vendor site, it's already expired, then you rush to find the card 3-digit number - and all the while the mission impossible clock is ticking. I'm surprised even the bots have the patience!

        2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge


          Hardly insurmountable problems,... I mean a button that says 'I'm buying this as a gift', and a little form to put the name of the recipient in, so their ID can be checked.

          The group thing,.... most people books seats together, so I'd presume you'd meet up and go in together, or you know, yet another button, and little forms to enter the ID of the recipients.

      4. DML71

        This works and is proven to work, no tickets on the secondary market sites. I checked last year.

        Inconvenience to me? None. Tickets printed on presentation of my credit card.

        Ticketmaster run their own secondary market which should be made illegal.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Martin Summers

    "To arrive at its conclusions, Distil looked 180 ticketing domains over 109 days at the end of 2018, and analyzed over 26 billion interactions."

    But how? How do they get access to private companies traffic and server log/analytics data to get to these conclusions? Or are they trying to make out their mitigation solutions are in place on all of these sites?

    I don't know if I've missed something but I think we as readers quite often take stats like this for granted without questioning where they really came from. If these 180 domains are all of their customers then it would be nice to know.

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Imagining the numbers

      26 billion interactions over 180 domains over 109 days? The bots must be going to the events too because there aren't enough humans with that much spare time.

    2. Phil Endecott

      > How do they get access to private companies traffic

      They sell a related prpduct; these sites whose data that have are their customers.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    the reason that ticket sellers don't worry about CAPTCHA's and other simple anti-bot tech

    Is that they don't particularly care who/what buys the tickets, just as long as the event sells out.

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: the reason that ticket sellers don't worry about CAPTCHA's and other simple anti-bot tech

      It's more than just that.

      If they just wanted to sell, they'd sell at a market price. And in some cases, take flak for overcharging. Maybe lose fans and depress the market price by being seen to be (even more) obscenely greedy.

      And of course, if an event organiser sells at market price, they have to declare income at market price. Pay tax on it, and reward cannon-fodder investors who backed the event.

      So much easier to sell at a nominal price and outsource the market price to "touts". Cut out those pesky investors and taxman, and deflect the blame.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: the reason that ticket sellers don't worry about CAPTCHA's and other simple anti-bot tech

        I wonder if kickbacks from "authorized scalpers" are a factor here.

        "Tickets go on sale at noon on Friday, but we will open up the systems to sell at 11:55. And of course, we have no anti-bot technology in place, so you have 5 minutes free reign. Just make sure to give us our usual cut when things are over."

      2. Tomato Krill

        Re: the reason that ticket sellers don't worry about CAPTCHA's and other simple anti-bot tech

        So by extension the most profitable route would be to give the tickets away?

        I think you've missed something in your analysis there - 100% of nothing is nothing...

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: the reason that ticket sellers don't worry about CAPTCHA's and other simple anti-bot tech

          You set the nominal price so that costs are covered ofcourse. But market price for tickets is quite often much higher than what is required to balance the budget or even make a modest profit.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: the reason that ticket sellers don't worry about CAPTCHA's and other simple anti-bot tech

      Is that they don't particularly care who/what buys the tickets, just as long as the event sells out

      Wonder how many tout's nearly shat themselves before BROS cancelled their gigs aside London and Manchester?

      all those tickets and no buyers

  6. Johnny Canuck

    Solution - no online sales.

    1. Velv

      Prior to online ticket sales the touts still used bots. Otherwise known as people on the dole to stand in line and buy tickets, because real people had to go to work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Well, call me a Socialist but at least that'd spread the wealth a little farther and give those willing to stand in line a little extra cash.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Well, call me a Socialist but at least that'd spread the wealth a little farther and give those willing to stand in line a little extra cash."

          And when those standing in line get 1% of the profit while the scalpers get 99% are we still calling it socialism or is it something else? Or have we just turned a few unemployed people into minimum wage slaves or exploited a few zero-hours contractors?

          So many shades of grey and so little black and white. Must be the winter weather...

  7. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    They could do like the airlines

    and require the name of the person who will be occupying the seat be named on the ticket when purchased. If the ID doesn't match at the gate the ticket is voided. And, allow the tickets to only be refunded back more than 24 hours before the show. And, publicize this fact on every ad. If people knew the scalpers didn't have the ability to sell valid tickets scalping would end.

    1. Velv

      Re: They could do like the airlines

      Some events already do this.

      If I remember correctly the Ryder Cup requires you to register your photo prior to the ticket sale date, and your picture is printed on the ticket.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: They could do like the airlines

        Thats not really going to work at a Kiss gig though is it?

      2. BebopWeBop

        Re: They could do like the airlines

        But the Ryder cup???? Observing someone else goof walk spoiled?

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: They could do like the airlines

        yeah, no. I'm not sending in my photo. They would already have my name and card number to go with it.

        1. Jonathan Richards 1

          Re: They could do like the airlines

          ... so, just like the airlines, then, where they scan your passport at check-in, and you probably bought your ticket with a card. Plus you've downloaded the airline app for your phone, and logged into the airport WiFi, so in theory the airline has you comprehensively pwned.

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Glastonbury got it right

    You register an interest, then later have to supply a photograph (along with other details), which is copied onto your ticket - and these are fully checked at the gate.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Glastonbury got it right

      You cant use photographs for gigs as a lot of people wear matching makeup!

      1. Tomato Krill

        Re: Glastonbury got it right

        The threat may be enough to make the scalpers' would-be buyers wary, thus diminishing their returns, thus partly improving the situation...

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Glastonbury got it right

      How would they validate the original photo? There is no way I'd send a scan of my passport, driving licence etc. to a ticketing firm.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Glastonbury got it right

        They match it to the face of the person presenting the ticket.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bots are a diversion tactic that ticket master uses to justify it selling inflated price tickets directly on its Get Me In resale site. Ticket master are the touts themselves.

    1. Spamfast

      Maybe make it illegal to attempt to resell a ticket at anything above face value, on pain of, well, pain? (As in personal financial ruin & cleaning the gastro-intestinal ward floors and toilets every weekday evening for a year.)

      Offical resellers not allowed to charge more than, in the UK say, Royal Mail postage rates and 50 pence handing & packing per order? And not allowed to resell unless they are the sole official sales outlet for that event?

      Just a thought - probably difficult/expensive to define & implement as is the problem with these things, especially to cater for smaller events like community hall concerts etc.

  10. bpfh Silver badge

    Somebody has big money invested in this for years

    A theory, with first a backstory about botnets.

    In 2006 I designed and delivered as a one man band freelance engineer, an online selling site for a toy company, all built from scratch. I did my best for mitigating any attacks, injections, account security, hashing and seeding password details, even wrote some big fixes for a major bank’s online credit card processing library.

    I got a request for a last minute change to add shop details so that someone could find their closest shop, with photo and contact details. A quick change where the shop name was passed in the url, this argument was parsed, checked that it was not attempting to get out of its root directory (in the end, not well enough), then this argument was used to run an include of $, and that would be rendered to the shop details page. This ran without fault for months.

    So, one day the site started running slow. Ssh’d into the box, ps aux showed 2 perl scripts running from /tmp, taking up 98% cpu. Killed the processes, archived the files, rebooted as single user and archived the logs , ran several malware checks , ended up reimaging the server and restoring the site from cold backup to be sure.

    After 2 days of log analysis, looking how the box was pwned. I ended up finding in the apache logs thousands of scans attempting to exploit known issues in known web apps and web servers. All ended with a server error as I was not running those apps or servers (server says apache, runs on Linux, lets run IIS attacks to get to the servers c drive...) - except one, from memory somthing like scan 2400 out of 6000, a direct access to one specific page on my site, no poking around to see what worked, no plugging random values seeing how the server responded, just one single bang to one direct page, all needed values present plus one ‘unexpected’ informing php to include the remote payload.

    So. Rookie mistake, not realising that include() was not just a local include.

    What got me was that somebody had checked the site, understood how the system went together , and crafted a tailored specific attack for a specific page on this, low volume totally bespoke closed source website, not used anywhere else on the net.

    I never did find any details in the available logs on how somebody poked around and identified the pages to include, so it happened over a month before, then was released and that scan was being used in a script kiddies automated attack package, my bug was being searched on millions of servers around the net.

    So, somebody took the time to look up the server, find a vulnerability, even if it was simple you needed to check and test first, design the attack and package that in with a list of others, then run the attacks, running from what I could discover ddos and sending spam.

    I was amazed that someone took the time to find a one off vuln in a one off app, on one server so they could pwn it, and was running the same attack on other servers around the world.

    Fast forward 8 years, ticket bots are on the rise when I first heard about the problem.

    My theory is that some guy who was dedicated enough to do major analysis work to grab a fistful of dollars sending viagra spam on pa couple of thousand pwned servers has levelled up, and putting their ressources into reverse engineering ticket sites, custom matrixes to be able to get in, get around captchas and work on seat allocation.

    Sell one inflated ticket and you have made 10 times more than you would ever have done pumping a few million spam emails from your botnet. Sell a thousand tickets and you are laughing. And far more legal than overt hacking. Less pain more gain.

    So, how to mitigate ? Ip range restrictions from the major bitbarns à la BBC iPlayer ? It would probably slow the automated scrapes. Better captchas would be good too, but would still be vulnerable to wetware hacking from a Bangladeshi sweatshop, paid a few cents per form filled, add some geo restrictions, order limitations per ip, should go some way to limit the fake purchases. Ticket naming, proof of ID with reimbursement but no exchange/resale would be the cherry topping.

    But are the ticket selling sites interested in doing this or are they just doing a ‘don’t care got paid’ customer service model...?

  11. Milton

    Too easy to fix

    Enforcing strong CAPTCHA and allowing only modern browsers solves the major part of the problem. The vendors could easily and cheaply do this. If they're not doing it, it's because they don't want to. If they don't want to, it's because they're greedy bastards who don't care who gets hurt.

    So, fsck 'em. Regulation will require all sellers of vulnerable items to implement a certain antibot standard and that's it.

    We insist that medicines, for example, must have a package insert listing ingredients, side effects, interactions etc, for public health and safety. Why imagine that internet based goods and services should be given immunity?

    Once again that phrase comes to mind: "The retarded intellectual metabolism of government".

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Too easy to fix

      So if someone is using an older computer incapable of using a modern browser they're SOL? Sounds like a retroactive restriction to me.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Too easy to fix

        Captcha, maybe*, but not old browsers. Bots may identify themselves as an old browser because their devs are lazy, but it's a five second fix to change the hard-coded user agent and run again. A user who hasn't updated their browser because they aren't sure how or like the older one better will have to spend much longer getting that fixed, and the tickets will have sold out.

        * Can anyone build a captcha that works for users? The only one that I see all over the place is Google's, and it frequently accuses me of sending automated queries (I am not). Also, it has a lot of scripts that are very inefficient.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Too easy to fix

          "d it frequently accuses me of sending automated queries "

          You're being run through a transparent proxy by your ISP. Switch to https

        2. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Too easy to fix

          And Google captcha is very N.America oriented in its things you have to ID.

          Which makes it difficult, doing a captcha on a tiny mobile screen, with many tiny images when the street signs, road markings etc are all different to those in the country you live (and you are not a person who watches much US TV / films so have not got a great feel for US signage that way).

          Frankly the bots are probably far better at captcha solving than I am

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      CAPTCHA is pointless

      The scalpers can easily afford to hire people in a third world country to solve them for the script.

    3. Pen-y-gors

      Could 2FA help?

      Could a variation of 2FA help here? When booking you give a mobile number. Code is sent to the phone. Transaction completed when code entered.For good measure, only one transaction allowed per phone number.

      It would make life for bots just that bit harder/

  12. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Elbow frontman Guy Garvey indicated in a interview I saw that the ticket resale sites where these scalped tickets get re-sold, are controlled by the same people who sell the tickets in the first place.

    So while they are making huge profits on reselling tickets they have no incentives to block bots.

    Blocking bots or at least slowing them down is not as difficult as they are making out, for larger events where they expect the most bot traffic, they could switch the ordering page for a customised one that the bots have never seen with different fields, some required some not.

    Sure they bot developers can tweak them to the new design but you could keep rotating the order page every few customers for a new one. Everytime the bot tries to fill in a field that was present on the old order form page and not on the new one, you ban that IP.

    1. Charles 9

      That may just make the bot designers switch to OCR techniques like Princeton's ad detector experiment. At some point the bots will use the same techniques humans use to figure out how to fill things out, operate out of enforceable jurisdictions, get around geoblocking by using proxies, etc. What man can create, man can RE-create. Then what?

  13. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Clearly, if scalpers make money by selling tickets for more than the regular price, then the band and/or the organizers could make more money by selling tickets for higher than the regular price, so no matter how you look at it, these people are stealing from the artist.

    I don't think it is possible to stop the selling from happening. What could be done very easily is to have any ticket buyer either give the name of the card holder, or the name of all visitors, and when people come to the venue, they either have to show the card used to buy, or ID for the names of all visitors. Or say at least half of the visitors.

    Result: Scalpers have no chance, because they'd have to either go to the venue or give the name of all visitors when they are booking. Normal customers have no problem, just bring your card with you. Customers buying a present for someone else just have to know who they buy the present for.

    If you ask who pays for it: You can obviously increase prices a bit, because the customers will still pay less than they pay to a scalper.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "so no matter how you look at it, these people are stealing from the artist."

      If the gig sells out, the artist should be getting a full cut since there aren't any unsold sets, QED. If it turns out that bots purchased all of those tickets and there is lots of resale online and on-site with empty seats in the house, it's disappointing for the artist to see those empty seats, but they are still getting paid. Next time they know that they need to raise the price and those un-re-sold seats become a net loss to the speculators.

      It can be hard to tell what the market price could be for a certain show in a given venue. Maybe tickets should be offered on a 3-day auction. You go online and pick your top 5 seat locations, the number of tickets you want (perhaps with a limit) and the top price you are willing to pay for each location. The auction software notes the top bidders for each block of seats, awards ties to the person who books first and you have a chance of getting your tickets at your price somewhere you won't mind. There could be minimum pricing on the choicest seats with those in the nose bleed sections starting at zero. Let's say the show doesn't sell out. Those seats starting at nothing may not bring in any seat money, but those people are still likely to buy food/drink/swag and parking. The band is also going to be playing to a full house, which always looks and feels good. As for artists making money, the swag is what rakes in the bucks. I did a back of the pad calculation for just T-shirt sales during the final Rush tour and chances were that the band could buy a new tour bus each every 2-4 shows on the profits. Income from the tickets was a rounding error.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        When I bought tickets to see the Rolling Stones back in the 70's at Earls Court, you had to send them a cheque in the mail and then a week or so befoe the show you either got the cheque mailed back to you or tickets - I got six tickets and we all went down to see them with The Meters - a fantastic show!

        The point is that delay between issuing the tickets and knowing that you had a seat made a big dent in the scalpers - you can'r resell a ticket that you don't have, and if everyone knows that the tickets have not been issued (or guaranteed to be provided) then any "tickets" on sale are fakes and you can track down the "resellers" and prosecute them.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          They stopped doing that about 5 years ago because people were selling tickets that didn't exist, and by the time the tickets were sent out and people realised they didn't exist, the fraudster had long since gone.

      2. Tim Hughes

        The artist(s) have the right to charge what they want

        It is not always about maximising revenue!

        As with any other business, a performing artist does not have to sell you their product if they don't want to, and they can set the price as they see fit. If they think that £20 per person is about right for what their fans can afford then what right does anyone else have to charge more?

        I feel that people get hung up about the concept of a ticket and have a sort of "I bought this piece of paper, therefore have the right to sell it at any price", whereas I see it as more that you have actually bought the (probably non-transferable) right to consume the artists product, the show, for the amount they specified at the time and date they specified. Therefore any steps they might want to take to control the distribution of tickets and the type of people coming to see them seem to be perfectly reasonable, requiring id/names on tickets/links to payer along with a clear channel for full refunds certainly feels ok.

        And honestly I think we would all be better off if we could kill off scalping once and for all - a huge majority of consumers would get more opportunities to see what they wanted for less and, unfortunately, a few people would lose out when circumstances meant that they couldn't attend something they had paid for and weren't able to get a refund for whatever reason (say a last minute illness), where previously they might have been able to just give the ticket to a mate.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: The artist(s) have the right to charge what they want

          Thinking that there is a way to kill off scalping is wishful. The only thing that can be done is to make it far less profitable and far more risky to get left holding a stack of tickets that don't get sold. The last thing that should happen is to have the police wasting their time arresting people for re-selling tickets (unofficially) and clogging up the courts prosecuting same. Something like the auction process I describe above could be a solution and maybe there is something else. I've discussed it with a few friends in the music business (I was a roadie for many years) and they like the idea. They even like the idea of the free tickets since somebody getting a free ticket might still have some money to buy a CD or T-shirt that nets the band more than the band's share of the ticket price. I'm hoping that the next time we get together they can help refine the idea. I'm sure we could get some entity that already has an auction framework to help get it implemented for at least a few venues that aren't owned by TicketDisaster.

    2. JohnFen

      "if scalpers make money by selling tickets for more than the regular price, then the band and/or the organizers could make more money by selling tickets for higher than the regular price, so no matter how you look at it, these people are stealing from the artist."

      I disagree. No matter how you look at it, if you buy something you are not stealing from anyone if you resell it at a price higher than you bought it for.

  14. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Couldnt we just put on

    lots of Ryan Adams gigs and banckrupt the fuckers?

  15. JeffyPoooh

    The Art of War

    Offer for sale event tickets, very expensive tickets, that permit the ticket holder to (for example) watch a MAJOR CONCERT EVENT video on YouTube.

    Provide clear notice, written in bold letters on an embedded PNG image (not easily Bot readable), that humans should not buy these Bot-Bait tickets.

    Even once, trap the Bots. Just for fun.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: The Art of War

      You underestimate OCR technology. That's how Princeton's ad detector works. By this point, if it's too mangled for a computer to read, it's too mangled for most people to read. Plus how do you stop a wetware attack that uses actual humans?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Follow the airlines lead - issue tix to named individuals

    If you passed laws that made it so tickets over $50 had to be issued to actual humans with a verified ID and could only be redeemed by the human they were issued to, you would virtually eliminate scalping. If the holder wanted to transfer the ticket to another individual, then that transaction would have to take place at the physical or online box office of the venue with both parties showing ID and paying ticket change fee of at least 10% of face value.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Follow the airlines lead - issue tix to named individuals

      What if the event is open to children? That could raise hackles that don't have the backup of secure air travel directives. Plus, what if the ticket is being bought as a gift such that the two parties can't meet to perform a transfer (gifting tickets IS a distinct possibility; think of prizes).

    2. JohnFen

      Re: Follow the airlines lead - issue tix to named individuals

      The excuse that airlines have for doing this is security. What excuse would artists have?

      Also, I've purchased more tickets to give as gifts than I have for my own personal use. Is it really wise to prevent gift-giving?

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Follow the airlines lead - issue tix to named individuals

      The biggest problem is the complexity of getting people into the event without having to open the doors much earlier. There would also have to be a bunch of staff training to spot false ID's and altered tickets. The ticket could still have a valid bar/QR code but the name printed on it changed. The staff at the doors aren't all that bright and are being paid minimum wage. When I worked at a bar we had a book at the door to look up license information from different states (US). The motivation was that we made a tenner for every fake ID we caught. We also weren't worried about passing people through as fast as possible so we could take our time resolving discrepancies.

      Ideally, the ticket is the pass to get in regardless. You possess a valid ticket, you get in. The tickets can be made pretty darn hard to duplicate these days through RFID(ish), printed codes and UV inks. If everybody passes their ticket through a reader just like a metro, it's easy to get everybody into the venue in a short period of time. Each seat is checked off as the person holding the ticket gets in and duplicates are caught. The person with the authentic ticket should have an emailed receipt they bring with them as a backup that's dealt with at the ticket office. Normally, it shouldn't be an issue and would take a very sophisticated hack to replicate tickets if it's implemented properly.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Follow the airlines lead - issue tix to named individuals

        But what about gift and prize tickets? Those are legitimate reasons for the buyer to NOT be the user.

  17. Tezfair

    Reminds me of the failed 'This is it' Tour

    Jackos tickets were swapping hands at 4 figure sums then he goes and dies and any refunds are face value. Bet there was a lot of annoyed people that lost out due to the touts.

  18. JLV
    Black Helicopters

    Beware easy one-size-fits-all solutions

    I often go to gigs where I’ve either picked up a ticket through Craigslist or I just buy one from someone at the door whose buddy can’t make it.

    A strict CC-used-at-purchase policy would not work for me, nor the people offloading an unwanted ticket. These aren’t sold-out Ariana Grande (horrified shudder) $500 tix. They’re $60-70 tix for indie rock bands at 500 seat venues. Scalping? Not much, though I am sure the TicketMaster-run markup insider websites do their best to fleece us.

    Solutions nuking the Ariana Grande or Kathy Perry scalpers need to avoid penalizing listeners of non-shite music.

    1. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Beware easy one-size-fits-all solutions


      Solutions nuking Ariana Grande or Kathy Perry need to avoid penalizing non-shite music.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are solutions out there....

    One company I talked to, last year, offered an AI based solution and a virtual waiting room to deal with legitimate surges. Of course, not all ticket sellers want to pay for these services. What we do need, as far as I’m concerned, is a change in the law to establish the principle that anyone who wants to legitimately buy a ticket is treated fairly. The bot users are parasites and I thing they should be put out of business using the very technology they abuse. Likewise, the ticket source should have a reasonable expectation that no one should be profiteering from them (uneless via a proper agreement).

  20. I3N
    IT Angle

    Slightly off topic ...

    Received notice that Elvis Costello show was cancelled in PHX after it had been delayed in November.

    One perk of living in the sticks was that acts that visit offer the potential of very good seats ...

    Always regret that living in CA made it nearly impossible to get a good seat at any venue ... (though I read that when the Beatles played in Balboa Stadium, plenty of tickets were unsold ...)

    Much agonizing once over not paying to see Elvis, what would be two tickets, un-scalped in PHX, for one scalped in SD ...

    Humphreys By the Bay ain't a bad place, would leave work late and hear the concerts from down the hill, but would have to share the dinner show package table with the scalpers ...

    Hope Elvis is doing well ... it is only PHX and AZ ...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wasn't block chain going to be the solution to this. These guys from Scotland no idea what happened though

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Yes of course. Block chains solve everything, especially if you put them in clouds and attach "AI" to them.

      Otherwise, no, because you can give the passkey to a wallet to someone else, which wouldn't be a problem if the only thing in that wallet is your concert ticket.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two ticket classes

    Simplest solution I can think of is for ticket sellers to offer two classes of tickets. One, at the much higher estimated market clearing price which is freely transferrable and has no requirement for ID on entry, and a second at the usual price, which requires a name and is void unless presented with matching ID. Pretty much everyone who isn't a scalper will buy the cheap ID-required ticket, leaving the expensive ones for the scalpers. If they want to risk it, given it's much more expensive now...

    1. maffski

      Re: Two ticket classes

      Your solution is more complex than it needs to be.

      All tickets at the market clearing price. That's it. Job done.

      A combination of charging more and/or more performances until the price they sell at is the market clearing price.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Two ticket classes

        How about a model where the initial price is high and gets cheaper as the date approaches? Anybody buying for resale is really going to have to figure their margins for where they buy in. People that can pay scalper prices for very good seats at popular shows can pay the premium right up front on the first day knowing they are getting authentic tickets from the source. The last day or two before the show, the remaining tickets can go out for free to fill up the house and sell more drinks/merch/parking.

  23. Roq D. Kasba

    Far worse than you think

    Ticket sales aren't just "open the floodgates and first come first served", they're released in tranches - a rush on the initial release is great for stimulating demand and news, but that initial tranche might just be 10% of seats. The ticketing agencies then release some/what they can of tickets through the "secondary" market sites. Promoters own the ticketing companies. And don't imagine the acts aren't complicit - their slice of secondary sales is contractual if the management company have any savvy at all. Freelance scalpers are a good bogeyman to point at and go "oooooh they're evil" when it's institutional scalping.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Far worse than you think

      "Freelance scalpers are a good bogeyman to point at and go "oooooh they're evil" when it's institutional scalping."

      Indeed - and institutional scalping can be stomped on pretty hard if the appropriate authorities put their mind to it. A law ostensibly written to tackle the fralancers can also have hooks in it to nail the corporate scalpers to the wall - and then prise them off again without bothering to remove the nails first.

      Ticketmaster's habit of tacking on lots of extra unannounced fees falls just as foul of the fair trading laws (Up-front prices required) as Ryanair's habit did. I'm surprised there haven't been some actions announced about this particular wee scam.

      The Competition and Markets Authority has more than enough power to decree market abuse such as "institutional" scalping by selling to a wholly owned secondary ticketing site is grounds for forcing Ticketmaster to divest itself of the company entirely _AND_ submit to detailed inspections of its sales procedures for the next decade. The FTC can do the same thing in the USA if it sees fit.

  24. Barrie Shepherd

    Could this work;

    a) login to website and select ticket

    b) pay with Credit Card

    c) website sends confirmation SMS to credit card companies pre-authorised mobile phone

    d) enter SMS authority number to website to confirm ticket purchase.

    e) website checks that no other (or agreed low number of ticket purchases) have been made with the particular Credit Card and also confirms mobile number not used for other purchase. Ticket issued with Credit Card and mobile number printed for venue confirmation check is required

    Would require Credit Card companies to co-operate with regard to mobile number - but many already do.

    Scalpers would have to have a considerable number of credit cards and associated mobile phone accounts to be able purchase high numbers of tickets.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      f) Venue does not allow mobile phones to be brought in.

      It also requires that purchasers have a credit card and a mobile that works/hasn't been replaced etc in the months between purchasing the tickets and the show. It's also doesn't take into account tickets that have been gifted and groups whose tickets were all purchased by the one person that winds up not being able to go, therefore, no mobile with the auth or the credit card that was used to make the purchase. Also, what happens when the card used for the purchase is no longer valid on the date of the show?

      Needing a whole tech infrastructure at the show can be a huge disaster. What happens if the DB crashes or the internet is down or some other hiccup like a router going titsup that interfaces to the doors for verification? Do you then have to cancel the show or delay for hours?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Solution 9... Hold a ballot

    9) Make it compulsory to sell tickets by ballot, not first come first served.

    So the ticket agency (or ballot operator if outsourced) would be obliged to accept entries up until a deadline date - at least two weeks after the ballot opens, say. Anyone can apply and has to give an address. Maybe a credit card as well, but it would be illegal to take money at this point.

    After the registration period ends:

    - the ballot operator is obliged to check for duplicate addresses, duplicate credit cards etc and exclude what appear to be multiple entries from the same source

    - tickets are allocated randomly to those who applied. At this point the 'winners' can be contacted and asked to supply photos / whatever else is deemed necessary to prevent resale and the card is charged.

    This has two advantages:

    a) Large-scale scalpers would need a multitude of addresses and cards which would require much more effort that at present. (Small scale ones would still be able to operate using friends and family but they're not the concern here)

    b) Fans who have 'real' jobs, such as nurses or teachers and can't just slack off for half-an-hour of repeatedly pressing 'Buy' on their phones can actually have a chance of going to a concert.

    TBH it is (b) that most annoys me about these concert events where the breathless publicity blathers on about "...ticket sales opened at 10am and were sold out in minutes...". That's lovely unless you're driving a train, flying a plane, or trying to save the life of the latest teenage stabbing victim.

  26. Alan Brown Silver badge

    1: it's not just a North American problem.

    2: Mod throttle helps. The proxies of the ISPs are known and you can treat them differently.

    3: As we've been seeing more and more, tying tickets to an individual at point of sale and denying entry if the details don't match is one of the more effective antiscalping measures.

    4: "Edging into criminal activity"??? That's an understatement - and in many areas ticket touting/scalping has been explicitly illegal for decades.

    About the only _reliable_ next step for taking on scalpers would be to enhance #3 and make an attempt to use tickets purchased from a scalper illegal, but you then run into the problem of the likes of Ticketmaster charging as much as they want "because they can" - in order to make this viable any "exclusive outlet" arrangements would have to be outlawed as inherently encouraging anticompetitive behaviour.

  27. sabroni Silver badge

    the only way to fix this

    Is for punters to stop buying the scalped tickets. Until that happens they'll find a way to scalp.

    1. rmason

      Re: the only way to fix this

      I can only agree with @sabroni.

      The market is there, therefore the goods *will* be there.

  28. Mobile Mole


    Surely the best way to fix this is to mandate that reselling tickets above face value is illegal? Many bands are partnering with the excellent Twickets as the only authorised reseller to fix this.

  29. tiggity Silver badge

    I long ago gave up

    On trying to buy tickets for "big name" gigs.

    I now just go and see smaller performers, in smaller venues as that way I can at least (usually, even if not able to buy one the nanosecond the box office opens due to being busy with more important things) get a ticket and at the advertised price.

    Advantage is that also get exposed to music I might have otherwise missed (I look whats on in venues I can reach / afford on days I have "free", if its a band / person I am unfamiliar with I track down some of their music online and if I like it then it I will go to the gig (obviously for a band I already am familiar with that search step not required!)

    1. Tim Almond

      Re: I long ago gave up

      generally more fun, cheaper, you aren't watching a screen all night, the bar is better (and you can stay in the pub nearby until just before the band comes on), the fans are better.

  30. NBCanuck

    Outdoor concert

    We have had a number of big outdoor concerts here is the past including once with The Rolling Stones and AC/DC as headliners. At one of the last shows (cannot remember who the headliner was but I'm thinking Bruce Springsteen) they released an additional five thousand tickets for sale in the week before the show. That must have wiped the smiles off a few scalpers faces. I'm sure a number were still holding tickets without a hope in hell of selling them.

  31. juice

    All credit to Ed Sheeran

    I'd quite happily drill my earplugs out rather than listen to his music, but he's been taking active steps to try and mitigate this issue.

    As other people have noted, the big issue is that most of the roles in this debacle make their money regardless of what happens.

    The ticket-selling agency makes a cut when the ticket is sold.

    The ticket re-selling agency makes a cut when the ticket is re-sold. (and as an added bonus, these are often owned by the same company who owns the ticket-selling agency)

    The venue gets paid for the seat/standing space

    The artist gets paid their fee

    ... and the ticket touts clearly get enough money out of it to offset the losses from the tickets they fail to resell.

    So the only people who are guaranteed to lose out are the fans.

    Admittedly, there can be negative impacts to the artist and venue - hell have no fury like a frustrated fan, and this can lead to significant public backlash for both, especially if there's enough unsold tout-tickets to leave large gaps in the audience and rub people's faces in it a bit more.

    (And arguably, that also raises a secondary concern for the venue; it's all well and good to get a cut of the original ticket price, but if no-one turns up, they lose out on selling food and drink, and there's often a significant profit margin on these; at the local arena, beer prices are ~50% higher than the equivalent drink in a local pub)

    Sadly, the cure is nearly as bad - with AI/ML systems getting better at picking the correct answer, CAPTCHAs and the like are proving less effective when it comes to blocking bots. And the various physical ticket checks (e.g. payment card, photo scanned onto the ticket) bring with them their own concerns when it comes to security and convenience. Plus it also leads to increases in the "security theatre" which generally surrounds gigs with high ticket prices, which leads to more queuing and stress for gig attendees.

    Whether or not legislation can make a measurable impact remains to be seen, but I must confess that I'm not particularly hopeful.

    Personally, I long since decided that I wasn't going to bother with any arena-scale gigs. Admittedly, I do occasionally bend this rule - I've made exceptions for Judas Priest and Prodigy (farewell Keith!), and when a friend had a spare ticket for Def Leppard in their hometown of Sheffield recently, it was hard to say no ;)

    But in general, for the same price, I can attend half a dozen (or more!) local gigs where I get to stand close to the stage, buy drinks at "normal" prices, don't get deafened by overpowered sound systems and even get to chat to the bands after the show is finished. I might even have enough cash left over to buy a CD or t-shirt, too!

  32. Christopher Soltis

    No reason to stop

    With TicketMaster's new surge pricing model, they want all these bots banging away for tickets, since the price of the tickets changes based on current demand.

  33. JohnFen

    I don't buy ticketrs online

    I don't buy tickets online because there's no way I'm going to willingly give any money to Ticketmaster and ilk.

  34. Winkypop Silver badge

    Nothing changes

    Back in the 1970s, before online sales, major concert tickets were often snapped up prior to public release.

    As a regular fan, on first ticket release day, you would go to the physical box office an hour before opening (back then being an hour early was enough).

    You would be first or second in the queue, but..... lo and behold, the first 20 rows were already "sold".

    Happened time and time again.

    On the night, a casual glance at the first X number of rows would reveal the glitterati up front and the great unwashed further back.

    Nothing has changed, except the quality of the music.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Nothing changes

      A lot of those first 20 row tickets would be reserved for the band and also radio station giveaways, local VIPS, etc. The bigger the name, the more people they likely have to give tickets to and they can't hand them nose bleed seats. If Fender is handing the guitar player free guitars, certain people at Fender are getting choice concert tix. I was lucky enough to go to a VanHagar show at the last minute in the front row via a friend that knows Sammy quite well. We were just fishing for any ol' seat and our jaws dropped when we found out where we would be sitting. Thanks Sammy, we had an effing great time. Lucky for us that he hadn't given away all of his allotment. Lot's of glitterati there too. I'm sure there was a heap of Quid Pro Quo being handed out.

  35. TsVk!

    get people to put their names on tickets and make them non-transferrable

    Event tickets are non-transferable in Australia, no problems getting in to see your favourite bands. ID must be presented with ticket to get in. Easy.

    US could do the same, but I bet that breaks some sort of constitutional something according to someone.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: get people to put their names on tickets and make them non-transferrable

      "Event tickets are non-transferable in Australia, no problems getting in to see your favourite bands. ID must be presented with ticket to get in. Easy."

      Then how do you gift and prize tickets? Especially between people who may not meet in person?

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: get people to put their names on tickets and make them non-transferrable

        Prize tickets are easy. They get held at Will-Call with your name on the envelope and you show your ID to pick them up. They are stamped "Prize ticket" or some such so the door people know there is no ID attached to them. I expect that most of the giveaway tickets are located in one or two discreet areas.

        1. Charles 9

          Re: get people to put their names on tickets and make them non-transferrable

          But what about gift tickets, bought by one person but intended for another, whose name may not even be known at the time?

  36. JulieM

    The Internet made things worse

    Things were better in the days before the Internet.

    Tickets for concerts and festivals were available from record shops and tourist information centres, as well as a few outlets specialising in travel and ticket package deals. Any would-be tout trying to buy up an entire town's allocation of tickets would have to trek around several outlets and make themself obvious in the process. And there might still be tickets available, just a bus ride away.

    Anyway, there is an easy way to put ticket touts out of business: Don't buy tickets from them! After the event, the ticket tout who was looking forward to doubling their money will be left holding a few hundred worthless pieces of paper. And they might think twice about trying the same activity in future.

    Yes, this does mean that you will miss the event. But at least it won't have cost you anything. And if you were actually bothered about the music, this would be a price worth paying. There's this whole concept of "solidarity", of bleeding when your neighbour is cut, which seems to have passed a whole generation by.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: The Internet made things worse

      You forget why the scalpers will always have buyers: desperation.

      We're talking "Walking on the Sun" desperation to get into the concert or they'll be social failures: dead men walking, a fate worse than death.

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