On the morning that tickets for Neil Young's Durham, N.C., concert went on sale, John Manuel typed "Durham Performing Arts Center" on his computer and wound up at what he thought was the venue's official website. With a picture of the center, and directions, it appeared to be the real thing.
It wasn't. But Manuel didn't discover that until well after he'd bought four $119 tickets he thought would be in the lower balcony. Extra service and delivery fees brought the total to $579, or nearly $145 per ticket.
While that seemed high, Manuel figured it must be the price. So he paid it.
When Manuel's tickets arrived by mail, however, they came from an address in Omaha, Neb. An accompanying cover letter said "don't worry" if the tickets had someone else's name or a different price than Manuel had paid. They did, including a printed face price of $69 -- less than half of what Manuel was charged.
Manuel had fallen prey to a sham site, the latest wrinkle in online ticket scalping. The tickets he bought actually came from a secondary-market site with no connection to the real venue. It's an increasingly common problem, and the sports and performing sites aren't any happier than ticket-buyers.
"Buyer beware on the Internet," said Bob Klaus, general manager of the Durham center. "I don't know how long this has been happening, but it really hit our radar this year with 'Lion King.' That's when we started getting complaints. We'd have first-time visitors come in, compare notes with people they were sitting next to and find out the balcony seats they'd paid $100 for should have been $32."
Manuel tried to go back to the website where he'd bought the tickets, but he never found it again.
Do a Google search for almost any sizable venue, and these sites appear in the shaded "advertising" area of the results page. Despite frequently having some variation of the venue's name in their listed Web address, they have no connection to the arenas. And they have fine-print disclaimers to that effect.
But with their pictures, seat charts and maps, they often fool the unwary into thinking that they're buying tickets for rock concerts or Broadway plays directly from the box office. It can happen to those buying tickets for sporting events, too, although less often if the buyer searches by the name of the sports team rather than the arena name.
These sites don't buy or sell tickets themselves. They're online marketplaces similar to eBay, used by brokers who sell tickets -- usually acquired through pre-sales or from season-ticket holders -- at inflated prices. The sites get a percentage of the sale price.
"It's something new that's come to our attention," said Gary Adler, general counsel of the National Association of Ticket Brokers. "I don't want to comment on any particular usage of it because I'm not the judge or jury or determiner of what is right, but we're looking at this issue. I can say that our brokers are not in the business of deceiving people into thinking they're buying from the box office."