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Concert promoter jailed for 20 years for $3m fraud

A US concert promoter has been sentenced to 20 years in prison after duping investors out of around $3 million (€2.8m).

James Walker Watson, Jr, 68, of Orlando, Florida, was sentenced last week after admitting wire fraud in the Eastern District of Texas.

Walker was set to launch the Orlando Music Festival in July 2022, featuring acts such as The Jacksons, but was arrested weeks before, leading to the event’s cancellation.

According to Click Orlando, the fraud charge related to Watson’s role as executive producer of the Southfork Music Festival, which was held near Dallas between 2018 and 2020.

The court heard that from 2016 to 2020, Walker devised and carried out a scheme to commit fraud against multiple victims in the North Texas area by claiming he was a successful concert promoter and was looking for investors to give him money to stage events, including two purported concerts at the Southfork Ranch in Plano, Texas.

“Instead of using the funds for concert expenses, Watson made large cash withdrawals”

Walker took the victims’ cash but failed to return the investments as he had promised and would often tell them that, without further investment and involvement with his ventures, they would not receive any of their money back. The fraudulent activity resulted in a loss to victims of approximately $3m.

“Instead of using the funds for concert expenses, Watson made large cash withdrawals,” said prosecutors.

This case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by assistant US Attorney Jay Combs. Sentencing Watson on 20 June, District Judge Amos L Mazzant III announced restitution to victims would be determined at a separate hearing.

“The US Attorney’s Office will continue to bring charges against and prosecute those who commit fraud and steal money from victims in our district,” says US Attorney Damien M. Diggs. “These crimes often take advantage of individuals who trust the defendants with their hard-earned savings and investments, only to lose them forever. We appreciate the work of the FBI in investigating and partnering with the US Attorney’s Office to bring this defendant to justice.”

News 6 reports it was not the first time Watson had been arrested for fraud, citing court records that showed he had previously been convicted in 2022 for a $300,000 scam relating to activities surrounding the Sacramento Jazz Festival.

 


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Northern Ireland police warn of ticket scams

Police in Northern Ireland are warning music fans not to fall for scams when trying to get hold of tickets for concerts, after figures show that fraudsters last year conned people out of close to £300,000 in the province.

Data from Action Fraud shows nationally in the UK £6.7 million was lost to this type of crime in the past year, although the figure only includes reported crime, and it’s believed many fans do not report losses to the authorities. In Northern Ireland, the total reported losses came in at £291,344.36 with 299 reports made.

Chair of ScamwiseNI Partnership, chief superintendent Gerard Pollock notes that not only does this fraud leave people out of pocket financially, but will also leave them left outside at the doors of concert venues. “We’ve had reports of people buying tickets through social media platforms, thinking they’re getting the real deal only to find out the money they’ve shelled out is to someone who isn’t genuine, and the tickets they’ve paid hundreds of pounds for never existed in the first place,” says Pollock.

“With some big names on tour this summer, demand is always high for those concerts which have in reality been sold out months in advance. Avid fans are being exploited, often by organised criminals, in the hope of seeing their heroes live.”

“Too often, we see reports of tickets that don’t materialise at all, or are just screenshots of genuine tickets that won’t get you any farther than the ticket barrier”

In its campaign to protect fans from falling victim to the scammers, Police Service Northern Ireland state that ticket fraud often involves the use of images and graphics taken from genuine sellers to make fake websites look like the real deal. Advertisements or offers may appear genuine, but there will be subtle differences buyers should look closely at, such as the website address.

A recent example includes a report of a person who thought they’d bought Taylor Swift tickets for £400 via an online ‘Buy and Sell’ page. The person was then asked to pay a further sum of money for a change of name, which they did. Once all the money was transferred, the buyer was blocked by the seller. The tickets never arrived, and the person was swindled out of their money. Another instance saw someone losing £600 over fake Taylor Swift tickets.

With summer gigs and events fast approaching, CS Pollock says people should only buy tickets from legitimate, authorised ticket sellers and resellers as criminals will exploit the eagerness by fans to get their hands on tickets for a show or gig they really want to go to.

“I would also urge parents buying tickets for children and young adults going to a concert, and those who make a last-minute decision to go to a concert, to be really cautious when buying your ticket,” says Pollock. “Too often, we see reports of tickets that don’t materialise at all, or are just screenshots of genuine tickets that won’t get you any farther than the ticket barrier.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”

“The safest way to ensure tickets bought are genuine is to purchase them from the authorised ticket seller or authorised re-seller. We’d also advise against buying tickets from other sources, such as third parties because you can never be sure of the validity and authenticity of the tickets. When purchasing a ticket from a reseller you should also check the re-sale or transfer policy for that concert, often there are strict policies regarding how tickets can be sold or transferred, breaching these can mean your ticket is invalid.”

The Police Service is urging people to follow its ‘Stop. Check. Report.’ advice to recognise signs of ticket fraud before getting caught. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” warns Pollock.

STOP – Whilst it’s always tempting to rush in and buy those hot tickets, don’t rush into buying a ticket. Do not transfer money by bank transfer and only pay by a protect payment method.

CHECK – Check the website or re-seller you are buying from before you buy. Check the event’s ticket re-sale policy to make sure tickets re-sold remain valid, or if there is a designated resale agent, or specific policies for that event or venue. Check the venue / event’s own website. If you have bought a ticket and you are concerned about the validity of it check with the event on its validity.

REPORT – If you lose money in a ticket fraud, don’t just shake it off, report it to police at www.psni.police.uk/report or to your bank. You can also report to Action Fraud on www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling police.

 


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UK ticket touts convicted in ‘landmark’ £6.5m case

Two people have been convicted of fraudulently and dishonestly buying and reselling tickets for high-profile concerts by acts including Ed Sheeran.

Mark Woods, 60, and Lynda Chenery, 51, both from Dickleburgh in Norfolk, were unanimously found guilty of fraudulent trading offences today (13 March) at Leeds Crown Court. Maria Chenery-Woods, 54, and Paul Douglas, 56, entered guilty pleas earlier in the process.

The four defendants ran multi-million-pound limited company TQ Tickets, which they used to purchase hundreds of tickets for events and concerts by the likes of Lady Gaga, Gary Barlow, Liam Gallagher, Paul Weller and Little Mix, before reselling them, often at hugely inflated prices.

The trial heard the firm sold tickets worth more than £6.5 million (€7.6m) over the course of two-and-a-half years.

An investigation led by National Trading Standards’ eCrime Team found that the defendants used several dishonest and fraudulent tactics to purchase multiple tickets from primary ticket sites, circumventing the platforms’ automated systems to block multiple purchases.

“I hope this prosecution supports progress towards a step-change in the secondary ticketing market”

The defendants then used false identities to resell the tickets – in some cases at 500% more than face value – on secondary ticketing websites.

The court heard they also engaged in fraudulent trading by “spec selling” – listing tickets for sale on secondary ticketing websites that they had not purchased and did not own. Where ticket purchases could not be met, the defendants tried to make it appear that tickets had been sent by giving fake postal trackers and sending empty or torn envelopes.

“This is a landmark case for National Trading Standards and I hope this prosecution supports progress towards a step-change in the secondary ticketing market, making it easier and safer for consumers buying tickets in the future,” says Lord Michael Bichard, chair of National Trading Standards.

Stuart Galbraith, CEO of promoter Kilimanjaro Live, which co-promoted Ed Sheeran’s 2018 UK Tour, was one of the witnesses in the case, and describes the verdict as “good news for live music fans, who are too often ripped off and exploited by greedy ticket touts”.

“We welcome today’s prosecution and the strong message it sends to greedy ticket touts looking to exploit genuine live music fans,” says Galbraith.

“We want to keep ticket prices accessible for as many people as possible and hope to get everyone a good seat at a fair price”

Statements were also read out at the trial by Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp of Grumpy Old Management.

“We want to keep ticket prices accessible for as many people as possible and hope to get everyone a good seat at a fair price,” says Camp following the verdict. “Today’s prosecution will help protect music fans and sets an important precedent in the live entertainment industry that I hope will be celebrated by live music fans.”

Chenery-Woods is Woods’ wife and Chenery sister, while Douglas is Chenery’s ex-husband. All four defendants will be sentenced at a later date.

The hearing is the latest in a series of prosecutions against ticket touts led by investigators at the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, which have resulted in prosecutions, jail terms and millions of pounds in proceeds of crime returned to the exchequer.

 


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Two men face jail over $1.35m concert fraud

Two scammers face up to 20 years in prison after admitting a $1.35 million (€1.25m) fraud over a fake concert scheme in the US.

Terronce Morris, 41, of Missouri City, Texas, and Blake Kelly, 36, of Los Angeles, California, swindled a promoter out of $1.35m between December 2019 and March 2020, under the pretence of financing a music festival purportedly featuring acts such as Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Billie Eilish.

According to the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida, the pair instead used the money to “enrich themselves and finance a lavish lifestyle for themselves and their accomplices”, spending it on travelling, luxury goods and services, and dining at high-priced restaurants.

Morris and Kelly forged the artists’ signatures to create “several false and fraudulent” performance contracts. Additionally, they had an accomplice pose as Bieber during a video call to trick the victim into believing the singer had agreed to perform at the festival in Texas.

Morris and Kelly pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft

The victim subsequently sent three wire transfers to Morris and also mailed him a $200,000 cheque made payable to Bieber, which Morris then deposited into his own personal account.

Morris and Kelly pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in Miami federal court. The Miami Herald reports the pair were charged in Miami because much of the communication happened while the victim was visiting South Florida.

Morris and Kelly, who will be sentenced in May and March, respectively, face up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, as well an additional two years in jail for identity theft.

 


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Music accountant charged over alleged $2.2m fraud

An Australian music industry accountant has been charged over the alleged embezzlement of A$2.2 million (€1.35m) from prominent clients including festivals and artists.

Damien Luscombe, a former partner and business manager at accountancy firm White Sky Music, is accused of several counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception and using false documents, reports The Age.

White Sky, which looks after the finances of of more than 500 artists, promoters, music festivals and record labels, reportedly suspended Luscombe in October last year after discovering discrepancies in the accounts of multiple major clients. The firm called in external auditors and provided a statement to Victoria Police’s fraud squad.

Alleged victims include Grammy-winning artist Gotye, electronic music group Peking Duk and organisers of the Laneway Festival.

Victoria Police have given the following update on the case.

“A 38-year-old South Morang man was charged with a range of offences including obtain financial advantage by deception and make/use false documents”

“Detectives from the financial crime squad have charged a man following an investigation into allegations of fraud relating to the management of a Collingwood-based business between 2011-2022,” says a spokesperson.

“A 38-year-old South Morang man was charged with a range of offences including obtain financial advantage by deception and make/use false documents.”

According to The Music Network, White Sky has declined to comment on the latest developments, but in October last year the company said it was in “absolute shock”.

Luscombe was bailed to appear at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 1 June.

 


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UK ticket touts ordered to repay over £6m

Two UK-based ticket touts, who were jailed after fraudulently reselling event tickets, have been ordered to pay back more than £6 million (€6.96m) or face a further eight years in prison.

Peter Hunter and David Smith, who operated as the company BZZ Limited, were jailed in February 2020 for four years and 30 months, respectively, following an investigation by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team and trial at Leeds Crown Court.

The pair committed offences between May 2010 and December 2017, making a net profit of £3.5 million in the last two years of fraud alone, buying and reselling tickets to concerts by artists including Ed Sheeran, Madness, McBusted, Taylor Swift and Coldplay, as well as to shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Yesterday’s (14 December) confiscation order follows a lengthy investigation by National Trading Standards and a complex and extensive financial investigation conducted by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Economic Crime Unit (RECU). Smith and Hunter were found to have benefited from their crimes by a total of £8,750,732.00. They have been given three months to pay back £6,167,522.02 and face an additional eight years’ imprisonment should they fail to pay.

“We hope this sends a message to all those who choose to engage in fraud that there are severe consequences”

Ruth Andrews, regional investigations and eCrime manager for National Trading Standards, says the result “concludes a landmark case that demonstrates once and for all that dishonestly buying large quantities of tickets and reselling them at inflated prices is an unacceptable, illegal and fraudulent practice”.

“All too often fans looking to buy tickets to sport events, music concerts and other high-profile events find that official tickets sell out in minutes before reappearing on secondary ticketing sites at vastly inflated prices,” says Andrews. “This can have a significant financial impact on consumers and I hope this ground-breaking case helps drive long-term changes in the secondary ticketing market.

“The defendants have learnt again today that crime does not pay and their futures have been irrevocably damaged by their criminal behaviour as a result. We hope this sends a message to all those who choose to engage in fraud that there are severe consequences.”

Hunter and Smith, used dishonest and fraudulent tactics to purchase multiple tickets from primary ticket sellers such as Ticketmaster, Eventim and AXS, circumventing the platforms’ terms and conditions and their automated systems to block multiple purchases. They also engaged in “speculative selling” by listing tickets for sale on secondary ticketing websites that they had not purchased and did not own.

“Yesterday’s developments should be a trigger for wider investigations to tackle the excesses in this market”

The duo’s appeals against their convictions were rejected by the Court of Appeal in November 2021.

“Music fans should be delighted with the result of this landmark case,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-touting organisation the FanFair Alliance. “The sums involved are staggering, and give an indication on the massive harm being inflicted on consumers. However, Hunter and Smith are only the tip of the iceberg. They are not outliers by any stretch of the imagination, and many others still operate outside of the law.

“Yesterday’s developments should be a trigger for wider investigations to tackle the excesses in this market – whether that’s the activities of touts, their methods of acquiring tickets in bulk from primary agents, or the secondary platforms they sell through.”

 


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Scam alert: Fraudsters offer fake Radiohead dates

Scam artists have been posing as 13 Artists founder and agent Charlie Myatt, claiming to offer promoters 2023 North America tour dates for Radiohead.

The scam email appears to be sent from Myatt’s correct email address but the sender asks recipients to reply to a bogus email address – [email protected] – that does not belong to him.

The email, titled RADIOHEAD – World Tour – North America 2023, reads: “RADIOHEAD are going to tour North America in 2023. Tour Period – July 15th, 2023 – November 30th, 2023. Due to a high volume of shows already on the books, a few time periods are available for bookings. Please contact us for more details and avails!”

A representative from 13 Artists told IQ they became aware of the issue on 2 November when Myatt began receiving bouncebacks from the phishing emails.

A number of promoters also got in touch with the Brighton-based booking agency after they received the phoney offer.

13 Artists was the subject of a similar scam in 2019, which saw a promoter send money for what they thought was a legit booking with the company.

If you become aware of a scam email or scheme, please get in touch and IQ will help raise awareness to the broader live music business.

Such scams had become relatively commonplace prior to the pandemic, with fraudsters posing as the representatives of major artists, including Adele, Ariana Grande, System of a Down, Beyoncé, Mark Knopfler and Eminem, emailing concert promoters and asking for deposits in exchange for non-existent live dates.

The sharp increase previously led the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association to issue a checklist, urging promoters to adopt the following steps if unsure of an agent’s identity:

1. Check the email address is correct – in particular the email domain – and if in any doubt call the agency to confirm it. Do not use the telephone number on the email
2. Check the artist’s website for any conflicting touring plans
3. Make sure you have full contact details of the agent with which you are working and speak to them on the phone at least once
4. Before sending a deposit, call the agency to confirm the booking and check their account details
5. Check with promoters in other markets to verify the artist is touring in that region at that time
6. If an offer is accepted and seems too good to be true, it probably is

Last year, a woman admitted scamming a charity out of $100,000 by posing as a booking agent for artists including Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Ed Sheeran. Atlanta, Georgia-based Carissa Scott pleaded guilty to one count of fraud following a hearing in a New York federal court.

Under the name Canvas Media Group, Scott and a fellow defendant were charged with conspiring to defraud investors in events including a December 2019 benefit concert for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, set up by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Prosecutors said Canvas Media “falsely represented that they could book top-tier musical acts to perform at the concert”, and sent organisers a contract asking for $500,000 for his performance and a $275,000 deposit. One investor in the benefit show subsequently sent a $100,000 partial deposit to the scammers.

If you become aware of a scam email or scheme, please get in touch and IQ will help raise awareness to the broader live music business.

 


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Scam artists offer fake Ariana Grande tour dates

Scam artists have been posing as Ariana Grande’s agents, claiming to offer 2022 European tour dates for the singer.

In an email seen by IQ, fraudsters purporting to represent the singer state that she is “going to tour Europe in support of her forthcoming album which is scheduled to drop on July 15, 2022”.

Demands include 20 single rooms in a 5* hotel, and 10 single rooms and 15 double rooms in a 4* hotel for a travelling party of “60 Peoples” (sic).

Inviting promoters to “please send us your offer” for the star, who is a client of CAA, it adds: “We look forward to receiving your availabilities for this period so that we can put together the best possible tour schedule to deliver Ariana’s show to her fans.”

The email is headed: “ARIANA GRANDE – WICKED TOUR 2022”.

A sharp increase led the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association to issue a checklist for promoters

Such scams had become relatively commonplace prior to the pandemic, with fraudsters posing as the representatives of major artists, including Adele, System of a Down, Beyoncé, Mark Knopfler and Eminem, emailing concert promoters and asking for deposits in exchange for non-existent live dates.

The sharp increase led the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association to issue a checklist, urging promoters to adopt the following steps if unsure of an agent’s identity:

1. Check the email address is correct – in particular the email domain – and if in any doubt call the agency to confirm it. Do not use the telephone number on the email
2. Check the artist’s website for any conflicting touring plans
3. Make sure you have full contact details of the agent with which you are working and speak to them on the phone at least once
4. Before sending a deposit, call the agency to confirm the booking and check their account details
5. Check with promoters in other markets to verify the artist is touring in that region at that time
6. If an offer is accepted and seems too good to be true, it probably is

Last November, a woman admitted scamming a charity out of $100,000 by posing as a booking agent for artists including Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Ed Sheeran. Atlanta, Georgia-based Carissa Scott pleaded guilty to one count of fraud following a hearing in a New York federal court.

Under the name Canvas Media Group, Scott and a fellow defendant were charged with conspiring to defraud investors in events including a December 2019 benefit concert for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, set up by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Prosecutors said Canvas Media “falsely represented that they could book top-tier musical acts to perform at the concert”, and sent organisers a contract asking for $500,000 for his performance and a $275,000 deposit. One investor in the benefit show subsequently sent a $100,000 partial deposit to the scammers.

 


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Bogus Justin Timberlake booking agent admits fraud

A woman has admitted scamming a charity out of $100,000 by posing as a booking agent for artists including Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Ed Sheeran.

Atlanta, Georgia-based Carissa Scott pleaded guilty to one count of fraud following a hearing in a New York federal court earlier this week.

Under the name Canvas Media Group, Scott and fellow defendant Nancy Jean were charged with conspiring to defraud investors in events including a December 2019 benefit concert for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, set up by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Prosecutors said Canvas Media “falsely represented that they could book top-tier musical acts to perform at the concert”, and sent organisers a contract asking for $500,000 for his performance and a $275,000 deposit. One investor in the benefit show subsequently sent a $100,000 partial deposit to Jean and Scott.

Law360 reports that bank records allegedly show Scott and Jean immediately started using the money on leasing a Mercedes-Benz, making large cash withdrawals and going shopping.

Scott also reported she could book other artists for the concert, including Drake, Flo Rida and Ed Sheeran

According to legal papers, the investor requested proof of the booking when Timberlake’s social media account failed to mention or promote the event.

The investor then received a telephone call from an “unidentified male”, who falsely claimed to be Timberlake’s manager. He stated that Timberlake would perform at the benefit for an increased fee of “between $800,000 and $1 million”. When the investor baulked at the demands, Canvas Media said Bruno Mars could perform instead for $600,000.

Scott also reportedly claimed she could book other artists for the concert, including Drake, Flo Rida and Ed Sheeran.

The real managers for Mars and Timberlake later told investigators they had never heard of Canvas Media and had never spoken to Scott and Jean, who were arrested in January 2020.

Scott, who has been ordered to pay $100,000 (€86,500) in restitution, is due to be sentenced on 24 February next year. The status of the case against Jean is currently unclear.

 


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Woman indicted for Taiwanese promoter scam

The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office has reportedly charged a woman with fraud and forgery, for posing as a promoter for concerts by K-Pop groups, Mandopop star Andy Lau and Singaporean musician JJ Lin.

According to the Taipei Times, Chao Chung-ling is accused of defrauding six people who invested TWD 4.84 million (US$159,000) in her business after she claimed she was promoting a concert by Lau in Taiwan last year.

The individual in question, reportedly the proprietor of Taipei-based agency FD Model Co, had previously received TWD 4m ($132,000) from separate investors for a concert tour by K-pop band VIXX.

The report also states that Chao sought an investment of TWD 800,000 ($26,000) in January last year, again claiming she was putting on an Andy Lau show in Taiwan.

The Asian live industry has seen its fair share of scams in recent years

Chao was also allegedly sued last year by claimants who said they lost TWD 40m ($1.3m) on a concert she claimed she was promoting for K-pop superstars BTS. In another claim, an investor said he gave Chao TWD 6m ($198,000) for a series of dates by Taiwanese hip-hop band 911.

The Asian live industry has seen its fair share of scams in recent years. Last year, promoters, festivals and venues across Asia were contacted by bogus ‘agents’ claiming to represent artists such as Lady Gaga, Eminem, Rihanna and System of a Down.

More recently, several South Korean industry insiders were accused of defrauding promoters and investors of more than $4m by posing as representatives of BTS’ management company, Big Hit Entertainment.

Similar scams targeted European promoters in 2018, which saw fraudsters pose as representatives of Adele, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé and more.

Photo: Huandy618/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

 


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