Revealed: Viagogo site offers toolkit that could be used by fraudsters

Rob Davies
Photograph: Alamy

Tickets website Viagogo provides an armoury of tools that experts say make it easier for ticket touts to commit fraud, evidence obtained by the Guardian has shown.

The findings, which prompted a call for a criminal investigation, emerged after a disillusioned former tout lifted the lid on Viagogo’s “inventory manager”, an online portal available only to people who sell multiple tickets.

The portal appears to make it possible to deploy similar techniques used by the touts Peter Hunter and David Smith, who were jailed for fraud this week after being exposed by the Guardian.

One of the counts of fraud related to “speculative selling”, when touts advertise tickets that they do not yet own, on the assumption they will be able to procure them later. The practice can lead to sales being cancelled, leaving buyers disappointed and potentially out of pocket on travel and accommodation costs.

But Viagogo’s inventory manager, a toolkit available only to touts, appears to make speculative selling possible.

With the help of the former tout, the Guardian was able to compose a listing for tickets to the All Points East festival in London – headlined by acts including Kraftwerk and Massive Attack – before they had gone on sale.

During the listing process, sellers are allowed to tick a box marked “I own the tickets”, even though this would not have been possible.

Separate information, provided by a second source, offers further evidence that speculative selling is taking place on Viagogo. Screenshots from the website show that the company advertised tickets to see Simple Minds at the SSE Arena, Wembley.

But tickets with the same section, row and seat number were still on the website of the official ticket seller, AXS, appearing to indicate that the person advertising them on Viagogo did not actually own them.

Hunter and Smith, who used sites including Viagogo to sell at least £11m worth of tickets, were also convicted of a separate count of fraud for using multiple identities and credit cards to bypass restriction on ticket purchases. Such limits are imposed to deter anyone planning to harvest tickets with the sole purpose of selling them on for profit.

However, Viagogo’s inventory manager offers tools likely to appeal to any touts who wish to ignore these restrictions. One function, entitled “Clones”, lets the seller duplicate a listing multiple times, meaning anyone who has managed to obtain dozens of tickets can sell them in smaller batches.

The inventory manager also allows touts to give “employees” access to their account, indicating that touts could pay staff to ensure they get their hands on as many tickets as possible.

The case against Hunter and Smith, brought by National Trading Standards, referred specifically to the illegality of using friends, family or other people to bypass ticket restrictions.

The Labour MP Sharon Hodgson said the Guardian’s findings should prompt action from regulators and law enforcement.

“As well as calling for the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate these new revelations, I now believe that there should be a full criminal investigation into the conduct of prominent resale platforms and their links to touts committing offences.

“It is of upmost importance that law enforcement ensures that these platforms are not benefiting from the proceeds of crime.”

Reg Walker, a ticketing expert from the security consultancy Iridium, said: “These tools, which are designed specifically for touts and are not available to genuine fans, facilitate fraudulent trading. They make it easier for you to bulk list tickets and to list tickets you don’t have or that don’t exist.”

The Viagogo inventory manager also offers a variety of other tools that touts can call on. These include a “market research” page, displaying information about upcoming events, some of which are categorised as “high demand, low supply” with a dollar-sign symbol indicating likely profitability. Touts are also given a summary of their transaction activity that assists them with bookkeeping.

The former tout said: “You can see what events are likely to sell out that week, anywhere in the world. It makes it really easy to decide which ones to buy. It makes it a lot easier [to resell tickets].

“It just allows you to do a massive volume and save lots of time. If people make a few grand a year from it, it’s not an honest way of living but in this era where a lot of jobs don’t have much value, I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s when the secondary ticketing companies are making an absolute fortune and getting rich off it.”

Viagogo said it would remove listings and fine or block sellers if it was notified that they did not comply with its rules. “We would welcome the opportunity to work directly with event organisers and venues to eradicate speculative listings and fraud all together,” it said.

The company did not comment on its inventory manager tools.