The Great Festival Wristband Scam

Matt Wilkinson investigates criminal gangs who are planning a cruel double fake ticket sting at this summer’s events, and the efforts to stop them

Festival Crowd

Festival chiefs, police and security teams have uncovered a new scam involving counterfeit tickets and wristbands that could see unsuspecting festival-goers fleeced twice in one go this summer.

A joint investigation has revealed that festival touts have intensified their game in recent months, and that their latest venture – which had a ‘dry run’ at the Reading and Leeds festivals in 2009 – could have cruel consequences for fans this year.

“What we saw last year was particularly nasty,” said Reg Walker of festival security firm the Iridium Consultancy, before explaining that the current scam sees festival-goers conned by the same criminal gangs not once, but twice.

Firstly, bogus websites (usually with domain names similar to official sites) sell fake tickets to fans online. Then, fully knowing that their tickets won’t get fans onsite, the same companies take yet more money from their victims for a second time by selling the desperate fans fake wristbands outside festival sites.

“This is extremely clever, organised crime. It isn’t just a few Arthur Daley spivs outside a venue,” said Walker. “They produce counterfeit wristbands and have touts outside the venues knowing that they’re going to get several hundred people [who unwittingly bought fake tickets online] turning up who won’t get in, but who are going to be looking for a way to get in. So then they have a second bite of the cherry.”

Reading and Leeds organiser Melvin Benn, who recently chaired a national conference aiming to help eradicate festival crime, said that pre-empting the criminals’ next move was a “constant problem” facing UK festivals, despite past records showing that most people with counterfeit tickets rarely gain admission.

“We turn an awful lot more people away than get through,” he said. “The chances are that it’s probably a 20 per cent likelihood that you would get in – not good odds to me.”

Benn added that he is currently looking to technology – and the football World Cup – to try and stamp out this year’s looming problem. “I think scanning systems will be used for the first time at festivals this year, to counteract the fake wristbands.

“The technology is there – it’s already in place for ticketing at football stadiums. However, applying that in a green field is often a much more difficult task.”

Changes “will definitely be introduced this year in different forms at various festivals,” according to Benn, who is also lobbying for every official ticket and wristband issued for UK music events to be “completely barcoded and scanable” by 2013.

Of the technology, Walker stated that there are plans to introduce radio frequency (RF)-aided wristbands this year, the likes of which will only allow festival-goers onsite if their tickets are official.

“You’ll have a pad on the wristband that is pre-programmed electronically, and it will work a little bit like the way you swipe your Oyster card [on the London Underground] – you run it over a pad and it will tell you if it’s active or not.”

Meanwhile, Walker hopes that a series of proposed “testing points” at festivals will act as a scaremongering tactic towards touts, as well as stopping innocent festival-goers from being scammed.

“If people were tempted [to buy from a tout], they could actually prove that the wristband is genuine before they bought it. Doing that, out on the street, could eradicate the sale of counterfeit wristbands. All you’ve gotta do is demand the person you’re buying it from runs it over the machine.”

While Benn admitted that “the crooks are getting better”, he’s confident the security measures being put in place this year will be enough to stop the problem. However, he also conceded that it’s festival-goers who need to be the most cautious – a point Chief Superintendent Andy Battle, who is Leeds Festival’s Police Commander, agrees with.

“We’re upping our game and proactively looking for touts now, rather than waiting for people to arrive with duff tickets,” said Battle. “But all I can say to festival-goers is ‘don’t buy from touts’, because all you are doing is putting money into criminals’ pockets – and the likelihood is that you won’t actually get into the festival.”