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Where Did That Ticket Come From? A Theatregoer’s Ticket Advisory

A couple celebrating their anniversary with a night out at the theatre discover that their prized tickets to the hottest show in town turn out to be fake. We’ve all heard that horror story, or something similar. What’s scary is just about anyone could fall prey to unscrupulous ticket resellers — and not just with tickets to Hamilton. But there are simple guidelines you can follow to guard yourself against ticket fraud.

We asked Sean Free, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Nederlander Organization, and Charles Flateman, Senior Vice President, Marketing of the Shubert Organization, for their advice. Representing the two largest theatre owners and producing organizations on Broadway, they both affirm that everyone in industry is doing their best to combat the menace of ticket fraud, and they suggest a few ways a theatregoer might become a better informed consumer. “We love that you are excited about Broadway and we want you to have a good experience,” says Free. “And for that, you first must have a legitimate ticket.”

Buy From the Primary Sources

There are two primary sources for almost all Broadway shows: Tickets are sold by either Telecharge or Ticketmaster. “When you walk up to the theatre box office, the person behind the counter is using either Ticketmaster or Telecharge software,” says Flateman. If you choose instead to call either of those two ticket distributors or visit their websites, you are buying from the same inventory of tickets as well, he explains. “It is the most safe and secure place from which you can buy a ticket.”

In addition, the Times Square TKTS booth, which offers discounted tickets on the day of the performance, also accesses the official inventory of tickets through those same computer systems. So once again, you are guaranteed that your ticket is 100 percent legit.

Flateman also suggests that you check with the primary source first, even if you think the show may be sold out, particularly if you don’t mind paying extra for making last-minute purchases: “Almost all Broadway shows have premium tickets that are available to consumers very close to the performance.”

Visit the Production’s Official Website

When you type the name of a show into your internet browser, you are likely to get more than a dozen results. Some of these will appear as paid advertising, but often, at the top or very high on the organic search results, you will find the official website for the show. The word official is a fairly good indication that the site is the one created by the producers of the show. Typically on this site you get information about the cast and creative team along with a button for buying tickets. That button leads you to Ticketmaster or Telecharge — taking you to the primary source for tickets.

Pay attention to anything that looks odd to you, for instance, misspellings or extraneous hyphens inserted in the title. If you feel something is not right about the site, trust your instincts: It’s probably not the official site for the production. And, as a rule of thumb, if a site offers a discount that sounds too good to be true, it’s invariably just that.

Buyer Beware: Research the Secondary Sources

A person who buys a ticket through the primary sources (Telecharge or Ticketmaster) may then resell it through a secondary source. As any internet search will reveal, there is a multitude of choices for the next buyer of that ticket. Unfortunately, mixed with the legitimate resale channels are the shady ones. At this point, you are pretty much on your own. Ticketmaster differs from Telecharge in that it also offers ticket buyers its own secondary channel, which, because it is in the same ecosystem as the primary source, will guarantee you a valid ticket.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people who think, This can never happen to me, yet the important point is anybody can be the victim of fraud,” notes Free. “Unless you are in the ticketing industry, it is very difficult to identify a fraudulent ticket.” If you are not buying a ticket from a primary source, your best precaution is to never buy a ticket on the street. “It’s essentially common sense,” points out Flateman. “There is no reason why you should buy a ticket any differently than you would a suit from a clothing store.”

While it will take some research on your part to become able to distinguish the legitimate and reliable secondary sources from the fraudulent, both Free and Flateman have no qualms about naming Craigslist as a consistent offender. “We see the highest evidence of fraud through people who buy tickets on Craigslist,” says Free. If you get ripped off by someone you connected with on this site, you have to seek recompense on your own, whereas many of the licensed secondary sites do offer money-back guarantees. But, of course, getting your money back hardly compensates for the trauma of getting publicly turned away at the theatre and not experiencing the show you have been looking so forward to seeing.

One common scam is when someone sells the same ticket multiple times. You may well have an e-ticket with a valid bar code, but you could also be one of several who have that same code. The first person to get that bar code scanned is going to get into the theatre. The others are just out of luck. “It is always important to get to the theatre early,” suggests Free. “If you walk in five minutes before the curtain, there is a limited amount of things that can be done to remedy your situation.”

“It’s a devastating thing when a consumer gets duped, and it’s very challenging for us because you don’t always know which ticket is the real one,” says Flateman. He explains that it usually takes the theatre security staff a couple of questions to discover how the tickets were purchased to determine whether the ticket is fraudulent: “It usually turns out that the people who have the duplicate tickets have purchased them from the same source, and you can’t demonize the person who got there before and is sitting in the seats.” The theatres maintain a policy of not seating people with fraudulent tickets. Sometimes, Flateman says, if there are seats available, the management will try to issue the patrons with new tickets, leaving them to recover the money for the fake tickets later from the point of purchase. “Our job is to make people happy. We do not want to have a family with kids crying in front of the theatre. We want to take care of them as much as we can.”

How Are You Protected?

“The Broadway industry is working closely with the attorney general’s office in New York State to combat ticket fraud,” says Free. “Because, at the end of the day, the consumer loses, and we don’t want to see that happen. In addition, we are enforcing ticket limits and trying to put up barriers to ticket sales through automated means. We want to give the people who want to see the show a better chance.”

In the preinternet era, those who sought to exploit the demand for tickets to a hot show would get their agents to stand in line at the box office — a line that would snake around block on the morning after the rave reviews appeared. Those agents would snap up as many tickets as permitted for future resale, or even multiple resale.

“Now the same thing happens, except those lines are electronic, and this results in hundreds of tickets going out of the door in a way that we wouldn’t want,” says Flateman. The way the scammers work, he explains, is through automated “bots” — computer scripts that keep making thousands of inquiries, searching for tickets every second: “These bots are always running, essentially attacking the inventory of Telecharge and Ticketmaster, preventing real ticket buyers from getting access to the system.” Imagine thousands of people trying to pick up a ticket every nanosecond and you get an idea of the magnitude of the problem.

Both computer systems employ numerous security protocols to identify bots and block them from operating like a real person logging into the system. Most of these measures are industry secrets so as not to tip off potential fraudsters. But you would have encountered the most obvious one, the ubiquitous and often annoying “Captcha” feature, which requires you to prove that you are human. The other security protocol you may encounter is confirmation that your ticket is booked but you are told there is a wait time of anywhere up to 48 hours before you will receive the actual e-ticket in your inbox. This usually means that the all the transactions on the site are being flagged for extra scrutiny.

How Broadway Direct Can Help

“It’s really important for consumers to understand who the official sources are, where to go to buy these tickets and feel that they are protected,” says Free. Broadway Direct tries to serve that purpose by ensuring that this site is the official source for all things Broadway. This means that if you click on a title of any show listed on the site, you can be certain that the link will take you to the safest place to buy a legitimate ticket for that show. Now that you are certain of the outcome, go ahead and buy your tickets, show up at the theatre, and enjoy the show!