Better Business Bureau

The Consumer Fraud Task Force is advising consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent special events. Consumers have filed reports with Better Business Bureau (BBB) and other agencies about events ranging from music festivals to fun runs to conventions.

These events often promise much more than they deliver. Victims purchase tickets and then arrive at the events to find crowds of frustrated people. The events either never existed or fall short of the organizer’s promises. These events often are promoted through social media, where consumers are redirected to a professional-looking website where they can purchase tickets for the event.

Task Force members recently investigated the following fraudulent special events:

  • In March 2018, the organizer of a failed luxury musical festival was sentenced to six years in federal prison and ordered to forfeit $26 million. Billy McFarland was the mastermind behind what is considered one of the most notorious event scams ever, Fyre Festival. Scheduled to take place in the spring of 2017, the festival was to feature several famous musical acts in the Bahamas. Tickets cost thousands of dollars. The event never happened and the FBI went on to investigate McFarland and his business associates. McFarland pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the case.
  • BBB St. Louis issued consumer warnings in 2019 about bogus events scheduled to take place in the region. In March, BBB issued a warning about a “Taco Booze Cruise” scheduled to take place in May near the Gateway Arch. An investigation found no boats had been reserved for the event, and officials with various organizations said they had no knowledge of the event, which eventually was canceled after BBB’s investigation. In August, BBB warned Cape Girardeau residents about a “Trap Music Wine Tasting” to be held in the area. The event was being promoted by a group that claimed to be a nonprofit organization. Several of the group’s recent events had been cancelled at the last minute and consumers reported they did not receive refunds of their money. A BBB investigation found there was no proof that the group holding the events was a nonprofit. The group shut down its website and social media pages soon after BBB’s warning.

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In order to protect yourself from being caught in a special events scam, the task force offers the following tips:

  • Research the event. Search online for the name of the festival and make sure the name of the advertised event matches the website. Scammers sometimes will use names that sound similar to real festivals. Read reviews of events held in other cities.
  • Make contact. Be sure the festival’s website has a phone number, physical address and email address. Be wary of event organizers who make it hard to reach someone, especially ones that rely on a contact form instead of offering a phone number for customer service.
  • Is it too good to be true? If you find a website offering tickets to an event that are lower than those posted at other places, the website might be a scam. Research all claims made by event organizers. If a music festival offers top entertainment, check those bands’ schedules to see if the schedules match.
  • Make a good purchase. Purchase tickets through a known ticketing agency. These agencies typically have refund policies and it lessens the chances of you having to chase down a smaller operation for your funds. Always pay with a credit card in case you have to challenge the ticket purchase.
  • Report it. If you believe you have been a victim of fraud by a special event, file a complaint with BBB and your local law enforcement agency.

The Task Force, formed in October 2002, is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.

The group has tackled predatory payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare fraud, credit repair and foreclosure scams, bogus sweepstakes, internet sweetheart scams, phony grant scams, home remodeling, elder fraud payment scams and a variety of other issues.

To obtain information, or to report a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:

Consumers are urged to report scam calls to the FTC at ftc.gov and BBB ScamTracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

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