Cracking down on ticket bots that leave you out in the cold
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January 22, 2021
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
For most of us, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to attend a live event. Think back, if you can, to the last time you tried to buy tickets online to go to a concert, a game, or a play. Were you shut out because tickets sold out before you got yours? You’re not alone.
So what happened? Sometimes there just aren’t enough tickets available for everyone who wants to attend an event, especially if promoters save tickets for artists and other VIPs. Ticket bots may also be a factor. People may use software to buy tickets quicker than the average consumer. They also might use bots to cheat the ticketing system and bypass ticket limits or to buy tickets using fake names and addresses. Then they resell the tickets for higher prices. Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act to address these problems.
We (the Federal Trade Commission) settled three cases with companies that violated the BOTS Act. The companies circumvented Ticketmaster’s security measures to buy thousands of tickets that they later re-sold at a profit. The court orders require the companies to stop their illegal ticket-buying practices and impose civil penalties. (Read the business blog post to learn more about the case. )
The next time you’re looking to score tickets to a must-see event:
Look for opportunities to buy tickets before they go on sale to the public. Sign up for newsletters or alerts from ticket sellers, artists, or venues, or follow them on social media. And check with your credit card company about promotions.
Set up an account with the ticket seller. That way you’ll be ready to buy as soon as tickets go on sale.
Check back. The promoters might make more tickets available after the initial release or add another show.
FTC’s first BOTS Act cases: Just the ticket to help protect consumers …
By: Lesley Fair | Jan 22, 2021 12:09PM
Remember live music? Remember the thrill of enjoying a performance or sporting event with a packed house of fans? As we look forward to a return to in-person entertainment, it’s easy to forget the frustration of trying to buy tickets as soon as online sales opened only to be shut out by companies that used tricks to grab them up and sell them at much higher prices. That’s the conduct Congress intended to stop with the passage of the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act. The FTC just settled its first cases against defendants charged with violating the statute.
The BOTS Act gave consumers a national defense against ticket bots – software that could buy up big blocks of tickets faster than mere mortals could type and click in an effort to score two on the aisle. To ensure that consumers had equitable access to tickets, Congress made it illegal to “circumvent a security measure, access control system, or other technological control or measure on an Internet website or online service that is used by the ticket issuer to enforce posted event ticket purchasing limits or to maintain the integrity of posted online ticket purchasing order rules. ” The law applies to public concerts, theater performances, sporting events, and similar entertainment at venues that seat more than 200.
The FTC cases name New York-based defendants Concert Specials and owner Steven Ebrani, Cartisim and owner Simon Ebrani, and Just in Time Tickets and owner Evan Kohanian. You’ll want to read the complaints for the specifics, but at various times since the BOTS Act has been on the books, the defendants bought tens of thousands of tickets from Ticketmaster’s websites and then resold them, raking in big profits. Despite security measures Ticketmaster implemented to limit how many tickets a person could buy and to enforce its posted online sales rules, the FTC says the defendants illegally used ticket bots to circumvent the system and covered their tracks with other illegal tactics.
For example, the complaints allege the defendants used various bots that would automatically reserve any tickets that fit their search criteria, effectively blocking anyone else from buying the tickets at least until the reservation clock expired. The bot also would bypass any of those CAPTCHAs designed to make sure the buyer is a real person. (Factoid for the day: CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. ” OK – there are some extra Ts in there, but we won’t quibble. ) By using bots, the defendants were able to buy multiple tickets across multiple Ticketmaster accounts within seconds, effectively freezing out consumers who honored the rules.
To evade detection, the defendants allegedly used thousands of different IP addresses, as well as hundreds of fictitious names and addresses and hundreds of different credit card accounts. Put it all together and the complaint charges the defendants with violating both the BOTS Act and the FTC Act.
Among other things, the proposed orders require that when buying event tickets, the defendants must stop using bots, CAPTCHA bypass services, fictitious identities, multiple IP addresses simultaneously on a single device, and credit cards in the names of anyone other than themselves or their employees. In addition, the order against Concert Specials and owner Steven Ebrani imposes a $16 million civil penalty that will be suspended upon the payment of $1. 565 million. The order against Cartisim and Simon Ebrani imposes a $4. 4 million judgment, suspended upon the payment of $499, 147. Just in Time Tickets will pay $1. 642 million with the rest of the $11. 2 million judgment suspended. All three judgments were partially suspended based on the defendants’ ability to pay.
If you have clients in the ticket industry, hold on to these compliance stubs for future reference.
Violating the BOTS Act can earn you a one-way ticket to law enforcement. It doesn’t matter how the defendants do it. It’s the act of circumventing “a security measure, access control system, or other technological control or measure… the ticket seller has put in place” that violates the BOTS Act. That means ticket purchasers who evade ticket limits by using fictitious identities, multiple credit cards, or multiple spoofed IP addresses on the same device are in violation of the BOTS Act, even if they don’t use ticket bots. Furthermore, as these cases demonstrate, BOTS Act violations may result in corporate and individual liability.
Serial violations are looked upon with disfavor. Before the enactment of the BOTS Act, the defendants all had signed Assurances of Discontinuance with the New York Attorney General relating to, among other things, their use of ticket bots. Encores are great for performers, but in this context, we call it recidivism. By the way, the FTC and the State Attorneys General share enforcement authority under the BOTS Act.
The BOTS Act covers “double features. ” The BOTS Act addresses more than just using bots to circumvent sellers’ security systems. Although not alleged in the cases the FTC just brought, the BOTS Act makes it illegal to sell tickets obtained in violation of the statute if the seller participated in the illegal purchase or knew or should have known the tickets were acquired in violation of the law.
3 Scalpers Fined for Using Bots to Scoop Up Tickets … – PCMag
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This is the first time the FTC has enforced the BOTS Act, which cracked down on the scalping of tickets for concerts and sporting events. Using bots to scalp video game consoles or graphics cards is not currently covered.
The US Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on three New Yorkers for using automated bots to purchase tens of thousands of tickets online with the goal of scalping them. On Friday, the FTC announced it was collecetively fining the three defendants $3. 7 million for buying over 150, 000 tickets for music concerts and sporting events and then reselling them at higher prices. The crackdown represents the first time the FTC has enforced the BOTS Act, a US law passed in 2016 that’s designed to stop people from using automated software to help them scalp tickets online. We bet you’re hoping the FTC takes the same action against scalpers who’ve harnessed bots to buy up in-demand electronics, such as video game consoles and graphics cards. Unfortunately, the BOTS Act deals exclusively with event ticket sales—not the digital scalping of consumer goods. When it comes to ticket sales, scalping can be extremely lucrative, as the FTC’s case shows. The regulator claims the three defendants—Simon Ebraini, Evan Kohanian and Steven Ebrani—collectively made $26. 1 million in revenue from the ticket scalping, which started in 2017. The defendants pulled off the scheme by using bots on the Ticketmaster website. The programs—which went by the names Automatick, Tixman and Tixdrop—were capable of repeatedly searching web pages for available tickets and then automatically reserving them. In addition, the defendants used hundreds of credit cards belonging to fake people, and routed their internet activity to the Ticketmaster page through spoofed IP addresses. “In many instances, Defendants also did not use their address as the primary address, shipping address, or billing address for their Ticketmaster accounts. Instead, they used over 550 addresses that were either fake or unrelated to their business, ” the FTC alleged in a court complaint.
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The FTC originally planned on fining the defendants more than $31 million. But none of them could pay the amount. So for now, the regulator has suspended demanding the full fine. We’ve reached out to the FTC on whether it’s probing the scalping of video game systems and graphics cards, and we’ll update the story if we hear back.
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Frequently Asked Questions about concert ticket bots
Are ticket bots illegal?
Although not alleged in the cases the FTC just brought, the BOTS Act makes it illegal to sell tickets obtained in violation of the statute if the seller participated in the illegal purchase or knew or should have known the tickets were acquired in violation of the law.Jan 22, 2021
Can you use bots on Ticketmaster?
This is the first time the FTC has enforced the BOTS Act, which cracked down on the scalping of tickets for concerts and sporting events. Using bots to scalp video game consoles or graphics cards is not currently covered.Jan 22, 2021
Is bot scalping illegal?
The State of Scalper Bots Why has this become such a debilitating, widespread issue? For starters, scalper bots are legal for retail goods. Ticket scalpers, once a sweeping issue for sports and music fans, became illegal with the BOTS Act, though they just saw their first fines in January 2021.Mar 19, 2021