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Fraudulent ticket touts jailed for more than six years

By | Published on Tuesday 25 February 2020

Ticket touts

The two British ticket touts found guilty of fraud earlier this month have been sentenced for a total of six-and-a-half years in jail, a ruling that has been dubbed an “important milestone” by the government agency that pursued the criminal case against them.

Peter Hunter and David Smith ran a prolific ticket-touting operation via companies known as Ticket Wiz and BZZ. They were among the ticket resellers whose operations were investigated by National Trading Standards, which was set the task of assessing whether industrial level touts were complying with UK consumer rights law.

When the criminal case against the two men reached Leeds Crown Court last year prosecutors dubbed the duo “dishonest fraudsters motivated by greed”. That Hunter and Smith ran a prolific ticket touting operation was not disputed, the question was whether that operation broke any laws.

Earlier this month a jury concluded that, via their ticketing business, Hunter and Smith were guilty of fraudulent trading and possessing an article for fraud. In a statement yesterday, National Trading Standards then listed the various activities undertaken by the two men that resulted in that fraud conviction.

That included using specialist bots to hoover up tickets from primary sites; knowingly breaching the terms and conditions of primary sites; going out of their way to circumvent tactics employed by primary sites to combat touting; knowingly selling tickets that risked being cancelled by the promoter without alerting the buyer to this fact; and speculatively listing for sale tickets that they had not yet secured.

In order to get around rules on the primary sites that limit how many tickets any one person can purchase, Hunter and Smith also had third parties register credit and debit cards for them to use, which opened up those third parties to possible liabilities for fraud too. They also lied by pretending to be those third parties when contacting the primary sites.

The judge concluded that Hunter and Smith ran their fraudulent operation from May 2010 to December 2017, making a net profit of £3.5 million in just the latter two years that they were in business. Based on their respective roles in the touting venture, Hunter was sentenced to four years in prison, while Smith will spend 30 months behind bars.

The Chair of National Trading Standards, Toby Harris, welcomed the ruling, saying: “This is an important milestone in the fight to tackle online ticket touts who fraudulently buy and resell tickets to thousands of victims to line their own pockets”.

“Today’s sentences send a strong message to similar online ticket touts: these are criminal offences that can lead to prison sentences”, he continued. “I hope this leads to a step-change in the secondary ticketing market, making it easier and safer for consumers buying tickets in the future”.

The sentencing of Hunter and Smith was also welcomed by those who have campaigned for much stricter regulation of the ticket resale market, include the FanFair campaign. Those campaigners also reckon that the conviction of these two touts raises questions for the resale sites that they utilised in order to sell their touted tickets.

A spokesperson for FanFair said: “Today’s sentences represent a major blow to online ticket touts who break the law and rip off the public. It’s a fantastic result for National Trading Standards and for music lovers across the UK, and should also send shockwaves through the likes of Viagogo and StubHub whose businesses are dependent upon large-scale resellers”.

“By facilitating the activities of online touts, there must be concerns that the platforms themselves are profiting from the sale of tickets unlawfully acquired by their biggest suppliers”, FanFair went on. “This should be investigated as a matter of urgency, and lead to action against those platforms if they have benefitted from the proceeds of criminality”.

Meanwhile, MP Sharon Hodgson, who has long campaigned against secondary ticketing, said in a statement: “For too long, ticket touts have operated outside of the law, fraudulently reducing the number of face value tickets available to genuine fans and ripping off consumers”.

However, she added, this fight is far from over, saying: “Today’s sentence is a victory, but there is much more to be done, with websites such as Viagogo and StubHub still operating and other ticket touts using similar fraudulent techniques to illegally acquire tickets. To truly tackle this issue, we need more funding for National Trading Standards and the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate suspected ticket touts, and for well known brands such as Google to stop sponsored advertising for Viagogo and StubHub”.