Eventbrite: ‘No evidence’ of vaccine scams in Florida
Ticketing firm Eventbrite, best known for its global self-service event platform and club ticketing business in the US, has said there is no evidence its platform is being used to scam people in Florida, where officials are employing it to book appointments for Covid-19 vaccinations.
Following reports of people setting up fake events on Eventbrite that charge a fee for vaccination slots, Florida legislators are fast-tracking a bill that would make it a felony (ie a serious crime) to target people with bogus event listings, reports Tampa’s ABC Action News. “We want to send a very clear message that if you do that, if you stand in the way of a vulnerable population and a vaccine that they want to get, we are coming for you,” says Chris Sprowls, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. “And when we do come for you, there will be handcuffs that will be involved.”
The use of Eventbrite is one of a number of novel methods local authorities in the US are using to get Covid-19 vaccines to citizens, with survey site SurveyMonkey and “companies like Google and Apple” also providing vaccine booking facilities, according to ABC News.
In Florida, Eventbrite has attracted the attention of the state’s attorney-general, Ashley Moody, who warned locals in a ‘consumer alert’ that scammers allegedly are using the platform “to pose as county health departments and take or attempt to take payments in exchange for Covid-19 vaccine appointments.”
“We have determined people mistakenly created new event listings when they meant to sign up for a time slot”
However, a spokesperson for the company says an internal investigation found no evidence of the scams Moody describes, with several unofficial event listings, some of which included a fee, the result of “user error” rather than fraudulent activity.
“Our team has thoroughly investigated and not found any evidence of vaccine registration events being created with the intent to scam people. We have confirmed the unofficial event listings in question, some which included a fee, were the result of user error. More specifically, we have determined people mistakenly created new event listings when they meant to sign up for a time slot.
“We recognise this has caused confusion and have published a guide on how to sign up for a time slot on Eventbrite. Additionally, we are continuing to closely monitor and remove any unofficial listings.
“We encourage anyone who finds potentially unofficial vaccine event listings on our platform to notify us. This resource helps people identify and report unofficial vaccination events, which can be done through our report this event feature, located at the bottom of every event listing on Eventbrite.
“Covid-19 vaccine distribution is a critical initiative, and we are actively exploring how our platform can best support the effort to increase access to vaccines.”
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Streaming scams target live music fans
A host of new streaming scams have cropped up in the past few months, with fraudsters setting up phoney Facebook pages and listing non-existent live streams in a bid to access personal information.
Streaming – be it of live performances, recorded music, films or television shows – has been an important part of accessing entertainment during lockdown, as music venues and cinemas remain shuttered and festivals are cancelled.
Criminals have capitalised on the increased time spent online, as well as the novelty of the accessing content in this way for many, and the uncertainty that has come with the Covid-19 crisis in general, to successfully target consumers across all sectors of society.
Live music fans are also being targeted, with some scammers directing traffic away from legitimate live streams to their own page, in a bid to pocket “donations” or “tips” given to performers, and others posting false listings of livestreamed gigs and festivals to get hold of personal information.
Two such pages, one posing as Universal Music Group (@GroupMusicUniversal) and the other going under the name of Live Concert Music, list upcoming live streams for Rolling Loud Portugal, Michael Kiwanuka and Jill Scott, Cage the Elephant, Montreux Jazz Festival, Nickelback, Robbie Williams, Brad Paisley and Dave Matthews Band, among others.
Almost all streams are listed as happening on the same day, with links landing on pages for sites called Eventflix and Stream Concert. A section below the supposed streams show comments from “fans” – almost identical for each one – discussing the lack of lag, commending the quality of the stream and recommending the service to others.
“There is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future”
Viewers are encouraged to register for free in order to view the content, leading to a page asking for contact details and other information.
Another kind of streaming scam has seen hackers hijack YouTube channels to impersonate Elon Musk’s SpaceX channel, generating around $150,000 in Bitcoins.
The creation of unofficial event pages on Facebook is not a new phenomenon in the live events world. In 2018, IQ reported on a trend which saw phoney pages set up to drive fans to secondary ticketing sites, rather than official sellers. Email scams have also targeted fans, agents, promoters, festival organisers, artists and others for years.
The increase in streaming scams responds directly to the current climate, as more and more turn to online services – many for the first time – to experience live events.
“As more people stay indoors and work from computers and laptops at home, there is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future,” City of London police commander Karen Baxter, national co-ordinator of economic crime warned consumers at the end of March, just weeks into the coronavirus lockdown.
“It is important that we continue to raise awareness of fraud and protect ourselves, and the vulnerable people in our communities, the best we can.”
A further warning was issued by the National Trading Standards in the UK today, as the easing of lockdown measures is expected to bring on a surge of scam telephone calls in particular.
Members of the public are encouraged to protect themselves against scams by joining Friends Against Scams, a free online initiative that provides training to help people take a stand against scams.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
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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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Bogus booking agents arrested in New York
Two women who allegedly scammed a charity out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by posing as booking agents for artists including Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Ed Sheeran have been arrested by police in New York.
Under the name Canvas Media Group, Nancy Jean and Carissa Scott conspired to defraud investors in events including a benefit concert for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, set up by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, according to prosecutors.
As alleged in the US district attorney for eastern New York’s complaint against the pair, Jean and Scott were contacted last September by the organiser of a concert at the 64,000-seat Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, in aid of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.
Prosecutors say Canvas Media “falsely represented that they could book top-tier musical acts to perform at the concert, and provided the investor with a contract for a total fee of [US]$500,000 that purported to commit Timberlake to perform”.
One investor in the benefit show then sent a $100,000 deposit to Jean and Scott, which they allegedly later used for personal expenses or withdrew as cash.
“Subsequently, when Timberlake’s social media account failed to mention or promote the event, the investor requested confirmation that Timberlake was booked,” the complaint continues. “In response, the investor received a telephone call from an unidentified individual who falsely claimed to be Timberlake’s manager. The unidentified individual stated that Timberlake would perform at the concert, but that the fee would have to be raised to between $800,000 and $1 million.”
“Simple stealing is bad enough, this is worse”
When the investor baulked at the increased ‘fee’, Canvas Media said Bruno Mars could perform instead of Timberlake for $600,000.
Scott also reportedly claimed she could book other top-tier artists for the concert, including Drake, Flo Rida and Ed Sheeran.
“As alleged, the defendants viewed a fundraiser for a charity formed to protect children from gun violence as an opportunity to commit fraud and line their own pockets,” comments Richard Donoghue, United States attorney for the eastern district of New York. “Simple stealing is bad enough, this is worse.”
According to the New York Post, Jean and Scott have been banned from working as agents or promoters while awaiting trial.
William Sweeney Jnr, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, says: “Nancy Jean and Carissa Scott may have been able to realise a quick profit as a result of their alleged fraudulent booking scheme, but not long after their illegal activity took off they landed in New York to face federal criminal charges.
“It’s discouraging to think these defendants were willing to defraud an investor supporting a charity foundation. Fortunately, the FBI doesn’t entertain such activity.”
Justin Timberlake is no stranger to agency scams, having been one of a number of high-profile artists targeted by scammers pretending to be his representative, alongside artists such as Adele, Eminem and Mark Knopfler.
Korean ‘industry pros’ implicated in $4m K-pop scam
Several South Korean industry insiders have been accused of defrauding promoters and investors out of more than ₩5 billion (US$4 million) by posing as representatives of BTS’s management company, Big Hit Entertainment.
According to The Fact (via Allkpop), a total of 11 music companies, primarily small and medium-sized promoters, were targeted by concert professionals ‘K’ and ‘D’, who forged Big Hit contracts and took ‘deposits’ – ranging from ₩150m ($130,000) to ₩1.4bn ($1.2m) – for non-existent BTS shows.
In one typical example, The Fact reports, an Indonesian promoter put down a deposit for a BTS concert due to take place some time between November 2019 and February 2020. The ‘fee’ for the show is listed as US$2.8m, with the number of concertgoers estimated at 50,000.
Other individuals involved in the alleged scam include a famous actor, ‘A’, and their manager, ‘Seok’, who posed to Chinese investors as a Big Hit Entertainment board member.
One of the victims, ‘L’, says: “The manager, ‘Seok’, deceived them by saying that he holds the rights to distribute BTS transportation cards at ‘C Entertainment’, an agency created by him and ‘A’. The Chinese investors believed the stories of the famous Korean actor and his manager and invested about ₩800m [$685,000] in distributing the fake cards.”
“The Chinese investors believed the stories … and invested about ₩800m”
Other victims include companies based in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong company, reports Soompi, realised they had been scammed after a concert due to take place in the city-state did not go ahead.
‘K’ was reportedly arrested on 9 November and is being held in a detention centre in Seoul. Police believe he has a history of posing as other Korean artists and their representatives, including Exo, Super Junior, Lee Min Ho and Sistar.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Big Hit says the company was unaware the scammers were posing as its employees. “We did not learn about this ‘fake document’ until we received photos of the reports,” it reads. “The contracts depicted in the photos [obtained by The Fact] are fake documents, and have nothing to do with Big Hit Entertainment. When we confirm specific details of such crimes and damages caused by these crimes, we will take legal action.”
The scam appears to be a more sophisticated version of those employed against promoters in Europe, who have been targeted by bogus emails purporting to come from leading booking agents.
Festivalgoers’ data for sale in latest email scam
Email marketers are offering to sell lists of festival attendee data to music business professionals, in the latest suspected email scam to target the live industry.
IQ has learnt that alleged fraudsters have offered to sell the data of attendees to “many events across Europe”, including Norway’s Øya Festival and the UK’s Tramlines, to booking agencies and record labels.
The majority of the emails, all sharing the same format, come from several email addresses traced by IQ to one Vikram H, operating from an apartment block in Bangalore, India. If one takes Vikram up on his offer, respondents are directed to a company registered anonymously in Arizona. None of the people involved responded to multiple requests for comment.
The alleged scam entails offering music businesses the opportunity to purchase attendees’ full names, email addresses, job titles, complete mailing addresses and phone numbers.
“My guess is that they either don’t have the information they claim to have, or they have nicked the info from our Facebook event somehow”
It is suggested that the data, which is supposed collected from “permission-based, double opt in contacts”, compliant with the new GDPR regulations, be used for “pre-show and post-show marketing campaigns, appointment setting and networking”. It is unclear whether said individuals are actually in possession of the information.
A list of data for 25,127 Øya attendees is priced at US$298. The number is a small proportion of the more than 100,000 visitors expected at this year’s festival – which takes place from 6 to 10 August – but was “very much the same number” as those attending on Øya’s Facebook event at the time of the quotation, says the festival’s chief executive, Tonje Kaada.
“They claim to have gathered the data from surveys, and that all the contacts have agreed to receive emails and calls from third-party companies,” Kaada tells IQ. “My guess is that they either don’t have the information they claim to have, or they have nicked the info from our Facebook event somehow.”
The live music industry has seen several similar scams in recent months. In June, Asian promoters received emails from fraudsters posing as agents of high-profile acts. A scam also targeted artists, with bogus UK festival directors offering acts non-existent headline slots.
Asian promoters targeted by email scammers
Mirroring the rash of scams that targeted European and Latin American promoters in 2016–17, concert organisers in Asia have been warned to be on their guard after a surge in phishing emails from bogus ‘agents’.
The last few weeks have seen promoters, festivals and venues across Asia invited to offer for A-list talent, including Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Eminem and System of a Down, by scammers posing as their representatives.
Screenshots obtained by China Music Radar show emails purporting to be from Hannah Edds – assistant to Eminem’s agent, Steve Strange at X-ray Touring – and WME partner David Levy, from xraytouring.co and wmeentertainment.co, respectively (note the missing “m”s).
According to the site, the two emails originate from domains registered and hosted in Hong Kong.
The last few weeks have seen promoters, festivals and venues across Asia invited to offer for A-list talent by scammers
In May 2018, the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association issued a checklist for promoters following a spate of scams that saw fraudsters posing as agents for acts including System of a Down and Eminem, as well as Adele, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé and Mark Knopfler.
“Please be very careful if you get mails that don’t quite look right,” said CAA’s Emma Banks, who represents System of a Down. “Follow the common-sense steps that the Agents’ Association have suggested and don’t send any money until you have double checked that the ‘agent’ is indeed who they say they are.
“Please get on the phone to the agents you are doing business with – everything on email makes these scams so much easier for people to instigate.”
Spanish resale org condemns “unethical” practice
The National Ticketing Association (Asociación Nacional de Ticketing – Anatic), an association representing Spain’s secondary ticketing sector, has issued a warning against the conduct of secondary ticketing operators in the country.
Anatic, founded in February 2018 by representatives of three Spanish secondary platforms, seeks to regulate and professionalise the secondary market. The organisation aims to weed out the fraudulent resellers that it believes are to blame for the resale market’s negative reputation.
The association is condemning “unethical conduct: falsification, fraud and resale” specifically with regards to the sale of tickets for the Champions League final in Madrid, but notes that the same practice extends to concert tickets.
Police in Madrid today arrested three individuals, confiscating 21 fake tickets and €3,180 in cash. The police warned against buying tickets outside of official channels.
The football final takes place on Saturday 1 June at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium (67,829-cap.). The stadium, which played host to iron Maiden last summer, has a packed music schedule this year, with concerts from Ed Sheeran, Bon Jovi, Muse, Alejandro Sanz and Manuel Carrasco.
“[Regulation would] allow professional companies to operate in the sector in a trustworthy and rigorous manner”
“A number of resale sites are not verifying that they actually possess the tickets before putting them up for sale,” say Anatic representatives, stating that in many cases tickets are sold before appearing on the primary market.
The secondary ticketing organisation also stresses the need for a national register for resale operators, stating that this would “allow professional companies to operate in the sector in a trustworthy and rigorous manner.”
Once again, Anatic calls for the regulation of the secondary ticketing sector to eliminate the presence of “opportunistic actors that generate negative public opinion”. However, the association maintains its position that the secondary market is a “necessary” service.
According to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2018, secondary ticketing remains a contentious issue in Spain. Representatives from the Ministry of Culture called for national legislation on ticket resale in October, following proposals on Congress the previous year. Concrete action has yet to be taken.
Promoters out of pocket as Phil Rudd reps go awol
Several promoters across Europe are owed tens of thousands of euros in deposits for a string of cancelled Phil Rudd shows, with some still waiting for refunds from shows called off as far back as June 2017, IQ has learnt.
The former AC/DC drummer in late 2016 announced plans to take his Phil Rudd Band on the road, pencilling in a run of UK and European dates for the following spring on the back of a re-release of his 2014 solo LP, Head Job. For both the tour and album release, Rudd agreed a ‘360’ deal with Wave 365 Media, a “bespoke marketing and promotion” company led by chairman/president Alan Bellman.
According to Rudd’s agent, Ian Smith of Fizzion/Frusion, the Head Job tour got off to a successful start, with the Phil Rudd Band playing around 30 shows in 15 countries in the first half of 2017. However, a run of UK shows initially scheduled for May 2017 were pushed back to September and then failed to materialise, followed by the cancellation owing to last minute “key technical and logistical issues” of all dates in autumn 2017 by Bellman.
Another run of European shows was then announced for May and June 2018; these, too, were cancelled, with the blame again pinned on “unforeseen technical and logistical issues”.
One Spanish concert promoter says he has yet to “see a penny” of his deposit returned, despite all Spanish dates being called off last October. He estimates Wave 365 currently holds at least €20,000 in non-refunded deposits from Spain alone.
His story is borne out by conversations IQ had with promoters from the UK, Italy, Germany, Croatia and elsewhere in Spain, all of whom said they are awaiting the return of at least €5,000 each for shows which didn’t go ahead.
“We were all gobsmacked to find the tour was pulled again”
An Italian promoter, who says he has lost €6,000 in deposits and around €2,000 in lost earnings, tells IQ he has “sent many emails without ever receiving an answer from Bellman or his lawyers”. A British promoter, meanwhile, says he has “emailed Alan Bellman at least 20 times since September, and the only email I’ve ever received was a CC on one where he was getting heavy with someone accusing him of fraud.”
“It’s typical that the minute you’re late with the deposit, you’ve got the agent screaming at you on the phone, saying management are going to cancel,” he continues, “but when the shoe’s on the other foot, it’s a completely different story.”
Another describes how the Rudd Band were “supposed to come to Croatia a week earlier to have rehearsals here for the tour. I booked the rehearsal space and paid for two shows, but the shows never happened.”
While the Croatian promoter says he managed to secure a refund for the fees, “the money I spent for promotion, rehearsal room, et cetera, I never got back. So I’m in a better situation than the other guys, but it’s still not good – they kept me in the belief that they [Phil Rudd Band] would show up until two days before the shows.”
The situation for a promoter just across the border was worse. Having booked Rudd for a date in Slovakia, they later discovered that Bellman had, without the band or Smith’s knowledge, booked a show in Spain for the same night.
While one British promoter says he expected the deposit to be put into an escrow account, Smith confirms promoters’ contracts stipulated that all monies would be paid directly to Wave 365 Media. “From the very start of negotiations I made clear to all promoters we were required without exception by management [Bellman/Wave 365] to collect on their behalf and monies had to be sent to management” – management that Smith says he hasn’t heard from in weeks.
One promoter estimates Wave 365 currently holds at least €20,000 in non-refunded deposits from Spain alone
A statement issued to IQ by Smith/Frusion, “produced in full consultation with and released for and on behalf of the Phil Rudd Band”, says all parties “feel badly let down by these cancellations and associated problems not of their making, especially having successfully completed a two-month tour in early 2017”, but, “having the decision being placed before them by Mr Bellman to cancel the tour in 2018, had no option other than to comply”.
The statement adds that Bellman and Wave 365 Media have “rightly, freely and openly accepted full liability in writing for all refunds of fees and any other costs to all affected promoters”.
While one said promoter says that, in his opinion, “these tours were booked with no intention of the tour happening – just an excuse to collect money from promoters then do a runner”, Smith contends that this was not the case. Indeed, he says the band had their bags packed ready to go. “If the tour hadn’t have gone ahead initially, I’d have agreed it was dodgy,” he says. “But we did 30 shows in 15 countries with great success – and we were all gobsmacked to find the tour was pulled again [in 2018].”
“We feel very much victims of a situation not of our own making,” he adds. (Until recently, Smith was not allowed to speak directly with the band, the agreement stating all communications must go through Wave 365 Media.) “We all hope this is dealt with quickly and fairly.”
Multiple attempts by IQ to contact Bellman and Wave 365 were unsuccessful.
Molly Long contributed to this report.
European artists hit by ‘worst scam in 20 years’
More than 20 independent European musicians have each been left thousands of pounds out of pocket after being allegedly scammed by a phoney management company.
London-based Band Management Universal (BMU) – which reportedly charged up to £4,000 (€4,570) for packages supposed to include music production, marketing and touring services, as well as help to secure a recording contract – has shut its website and email accounts and cancelled its phones after failing to deliver the promised services, according to a BBC investigation.
A number of contractors are also believed to be owed money by the company, which was run by a man named ‘Matthias’.
An archived version of the BMU site from March 2016 shows the company’s address in Hatton Garden, London’s jewellery quarter.
“It’s a scam, definitely. There’s no doubt about it”
Among the artists who lost money are British singer Sarah Kaloczi (£2,000) and Dutch band Counting Wolves (£3,840). Jasper Roelofsen, singer in Counting Wolves, says ‘Matthias’ pressured him to pay, saying: “The quicker you get the money to me, the quicker we can get started”.
“We could have used that money to do something useful for our careers, but instead we burned it,” Roelofsen tells the BBC.
Horace Trubridge, head of the UK’s Musicians’ Union, says the alleged scam is the worst he’s seen in the past 20 years. “Oh, it is a scam, definitely,” he comments. “There’s no doubt about it.
“As soon as we hear that an artist has been asked to put their hand in their own pocket by a management company, big alarm bells start to ring.”
“We would caution artists not to pay through money on a wing and a prayer”
Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum (MMF), adds: “Artists can check if managers are MMF members and are signed up to our professional code of practice. Needless to say, this guy [Matthias] isn’t.
“Artists should also ask around the industry for references before signing any contract, and should definitely take independent legal advice. Ensuring an artist has that independent legal advice also protects the manager.
“Some established artists do have managers on retainer rather than commission, and this can work well for the artist and the manager if structured right. But that set-up tends to be for very defined service delivery and we would caution artists not to pay through money on a wing and a prayer, as seems to have happened in this case according to the BBC’s report.”
Efforts by IQ to contact BMU were unsuccessful.