How not to fall foul of the ticket scammers catching out Taylor Swift fans

Taylor Swift performs onstage during the Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour at Lumen Field on July 22, 2023 in Seattle
Tickets for Taylor Swift's Eras Tour at Wembley are being flogged for thousands of pounds on some resale sites - Mat Hayward/TAS23

When Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour arrives in the United Kingdom in just a few months’ time, it won’t just be one of the most eagerly awaited concert series ever, but a record-breaking one too; it’s now the first music tour to surpass $1 billion in revenue. And, as any Swifties will know if they’ve watched the concert film, it’s an absolutely brilliant show, too.

Just imagine being there and seeing it for yourself though.

Problem is, this sheer fear of missing out is driving more and more people to secondary selling sites in their desperate search for tickets.

And don’t the touts – and more brazen scammers – know it. This week Lloyds Banking Group has issued a warning to fans, saying that more than 600 of its customers that tried to buy tickets for the Eras Tour between July 2023 and March 2024 have come forward to report being scammed. The average amount lost by each victim was £332, though in some cases the loss was more than £1,000. More than £1 million has been lost to fraudsters so far.

Though it’s perfectly legal for sites to resell tickets for events such as gigs and concerts, as long as the sale abides by consumer protection laws, they can clearly be open to abuse. Go onto StubHub for three tickets together for Taylor Swift’s show at Wembley on Friday June 21 and the staggering total price is £72,304.80: Look What You Made Me Do, indeed.

That, incredibly, is more than 14,000 per cent mark-up on tickets with a face value of £170 each.

Now, it’s possible that this extreme example is one person trying their luck. Supply and demand, and all that. It’s also likely, say industry insiders, that such an obviously ridiculous price won’t be met. What’s more troubling, though, is the sheer amount of tickets available for that show via market-leading secondary ticket sales site Viagogo, ranging from £784 for a restricted-view £49 seat to £4,737 for a £170 seat.

It’s these tickets that are the tip of the iceberg for what Adam Webb calls an “off the charts” ticket-touting operation which is making some people very rich indeed.

Webb is the campaign manager for FanFair Alliance, a music campaign group backed by some big names in music – and politics – who have been working since 2016 to try and sort out the “horror show” that was and remains the secondary sales market.

They show me evidence that the UK’s dominant secondary sales websites remain dependent on high-volume touts, many of whom acquire tickets unlawfully and commit fraud.

There have been some successes along the way, including the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) enforcing more transparency on to the sites. Earlier this month, a touting operation selling £6.5 million-worth of tickets on secondary-sales sites including Viagogo was convicted for fraudulent trading, too.

But it got to the stage last year where FanFair Alliance believed that the only real way to ensure fans get to see the acts they love is to advocate for legislation on banning ticket resale for profit – which is already in force in Ireland.

And that’s because the sheer scale of touting using sophisticated techniques is destroying the primary sale market. Organised groups of touts from this country and around the world – criminal gangs, to be frank – are using software and AI to prioritise their purchases which they then sell on for a huge mark-up on secondary sites.

Webb introduces me to Reg Walker, founder of The Iridium Consultancy, who specialise in the private security sector for live events. He has nearly four decades of experience combating ticket touts, and regularly scours millions of lines of ticket data to understand the tactics that are now in place.

“Even as recently as 2007, you were looking at about 150 touts in the UK,” he says. “Now, it’s between 3,000 and 5,000. We infiltrated one group, and for £99 a month you could get access to highly aggressive software which used queue-jumping technology. So when Beyoncé went on sale, they generated 800,000 electronic placeholders, smashed the whole primary sale system to bits, and jumped them to the front of the queue.

“We’ve been warning for several years that unless something was done, you would lose the ability to sell tickets to the public at face value. I think we’re at that tipping point now.”

Beyoncé performs onstage during Renaissance world tour
Organised groups of touts are using software and AI to prioritise their purchases, such as Beyoncé tickets, which they then sell on for a huge mark-up - Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Webb takes me back to the site for that Taylor Swift show. In fact, he goes one step further back – if you type Taylor Swift tickets into Google the first two hits are secondary selling sites.

And then Webb shows me what Reg Walker unequivocally calls an “illegal touting operation running in plain sight”.

In 2018, the CMA secured a court order against Viagogo requiring it to show actual seat numbers rather than just rows and blocks to try and combat the speculative selling practices – where traders sell tickets they don’t yet own but will attempt to secure. They also have to show the original face value, who the seller is and even if they are a “trader” – for Viagogo, someone who sells more than 100 tickets a year.

“The traders are ticket touts, not fans,” says Webb. Indeed, the CMA’s findings during the merger investigation of Viagogo and StubHub in the UK found that for both parties “the largest resellers account for the majority of their sales”.

And in 2020, it was revealed that secondary selling sites offer “inventory managers”, a suite of online tools and portals available to people who sell multiple tickets, allowing them to clone their listings. “This is how organised it is,” says Webb. “We also know the biggest suppliers will also be able to trade on more preferable terms, paying less in fees than consumers.”

Still, the CMA order might initially make buying from a secondary seller feel a bit more transparent and reassuring – regulated even. If you have £800 to spare, then perhaps you might go for it – even if the names and addresses and companies of the traders can be behind multiple clicks, PO Boxes and unidentifiable names. The CMA has actually warned StubHub in the past for “failing to take sufficient steps to ensure that the full addresses of business sellers are displayed”.

“We’ve seen one called Mickey Mouse,” laughs Walker. “Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.”

“But check the very small print at the top here,” adds Webb. “Resale of tickets is prohibited for this event. Please note your ticket may be invalid for entry to the event.” (For its part, StubHub later said: “We have a long history of collaborating with regulators in the interests of our fans and will continue to support measures that promote a secure, transparent, and competitive ticket marketplace. We encourage any ongoing regulatory discussions to be comprehensive.”

When a seller places a ticket on a secondary site the tickets are all theoretically invalid as soon as they are listed or sold.

We check this with the promoters, AEG Presents, and they confirm that they have official resale facilities through approved channels (not Viagogo), which cap prices.

“Any tickets found to be purchased via re-sale on the non-official secondary market will not be valid for entry into the concerts and will be cancelled in accordance with the terms and conditions of sale.”

So, I ask Viagogo why they are listing Taylor Swift tickets at all, given even they admit in their small print their customers may excitedly arrive at Wembley Stadium in June and not be allowed in.

“Viagogo is fully compliant in all markets in which the business operates – ticket resale is legal in the UK,” says a spokesperson.

“When purchasing tickets to any live event on Viagogo, the site will inform buyers if the event prohibits the resale of tickets in accordance with regulations set out by the CMA.

“Less than 0.02% of tickets encounter an issue at the door and the Viagogo guarantee ensures buyers will be offered a refund in the rare instance that an issue arises.”

Viagogo website
In 2018, the CMA secured a court order against Viagogo requiring it to show seat numbers rather than just rows to combat speculative selling practices - Louisa Svensson/Alamy Stock Photo

So, even if it were easy to get a refund, anyone buying a ticket at a hugely inflated price via Viagogo is still, effectively, gambling that the promoter or venue won’t have the resources to police or enforce their T&Cs.

“At Ed Sheeran, we did have the resources,” says Walker. “I was the architect of his anti-touting strategy; we scrubbed all the data, cancelled thousands of tickets, they went back on sale again, the touts bought them again and then at the venue people were being turned away with tickets from Viagogo.

“What we did in that instance is hold tickets back and resold at face value to fans who couldn’t get in – but if you keep doing that it’s commercially incredibly disruptive. When you see these kids being turned away, it’s heartbreaking – there’s a very real human cost.”

“And my office is regularly contacted by victims of the parasitic secondary ticketing market,” says Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse.

Hodgson is worth listening to when it comes to ticket touting, not least because she has been at the forefront of changing policy on ticketing for over 15 years. “It all started for me when my daughter was trying to get tickets for Take That.

“They’d all sold out, and when I told her to try a Google search she was in disbelief about how much they were. It was then the penny dropped this wasn’t people buying tickets and  realising later that day they couldn’t go. They were selling them deliberately to make a huge profit from fans. And as a politician that immediate unfairness started me off.”

In the years that followed, Hodgson has tried to introduce a private members bill, had questions at PMQs, issued reports and worked with the CMA. In fact, in the House of Lords at the moment there are further amendments to the Consumer Rights Act, which limits the resale of tickets to the amount you can legitimately buy, as well as giving the platforms the liability for the listings.

Sharon Hodgson, Labour Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West
Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, has been battling the touts for 15 years - Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Last week, her Labour Party made a commitment to end online ticket touting should it be elected. But she is keen to emphasise this isn’t a party political issue.

“The APPG was first co-chaired by Michael Weatherley, the late Conservative MP for Hove, and we led the work on this up to the Consumer Rights Act, with great help from Lord Colin Moynihan. He was the hero of the moment because we couldn’t get anything through the Commons, but we could get the amendments to the bill in the Lords. The former Conservative MP Nigel Adams was great in getting legislation through on making ticket bots illegal.

“It’s amazing, over the last 15 years everyone has come round to the realisation that the only way to deal with ticket touting is to take the profit out of it. Secondary selling sites won’t like it, but I would say to them that they’d still have the opportunity to charge a flat fee for a ticket exchange system. But they won’t be interested in that because it’s the percentages on the huge mark-ups that make them their money.”

For now, though, how do you go about getting a ticket for a big, in-demand concert tour?

“Well, don’t use Google as it’ll signpost you to a secondary sales site,” says Webb.

“Find the artist’s website and look for pre-sales. And then, don’t panic. In nearly all cases in the UK there are mechanisms to buy official tickets from different vendors. There’s also the ability to resell and buy tickets ethically and officially. There’s probably a million tickets in the marketplace for Taylor Swift… not everyone is going to be able to go.”

And certainly be careful of social media, where ticket scams often involve fake adverts, posts or listings offering tickets or access to events which have already sold out or don’t even exist.

As for those £25,000 tickets, we asked StubHub to clarify why they were on there too. Like Viagogo, they argue StubHub “facilitates safe transactions, with full visibility (including face value and transparent all-in pricing), that have allowed fans to access events”.

For some, then, it’s going to be a very cruel summer.