Do you remember waiting in long lines just to get tickets for a show?
Those days seem almost quaint now in the ecommerce age of instant gratification.
“Depending on the popularity of the event, you could expect to probably waste a lot of time standing in line just to get tickets.
“Now there’s less initiative to hold such events because people are more likely to purchase tickets online,” said Y.C. Chia, the founder of local online ticketing and event management platform Ticket2u.
‘...Ready For It?’
Despite the convenience, buying tickets online can quickly turn into a nightmarish experience.
In November last year, many fans looking to score tickets online to US songstress Taylor Swift’s 2023 concert tour were left empty-handed and frustrated after being forced to endure long virtual wait times and constant glitches on Ticketmaster.
This was due to the sheer number of fans, bots and scalpers overwhelming the US- based online ticketing platform, Reuters reported.
“The staggering number of bot attacks as well as fans who didn’t have invite codes drove unprecedented traffic on our site, resulting in 3.5 billion total system requests – 4x our previous peak,” Ticketmaster said.
Clinician Elaine Lee faced a similar situation in February when she wanted to buy tickets for American band CAS. Ready with her credit card, she logged on to a ticketing website 30 minutes before the ticket sales opened.
“I was in a virtual waiting room and it told me how long to wait. I felt it was inconsistent because the waiting time jumped from three hours to five then nine then back to two hours,” Lee told LifestyleTech.
Moments later, Lee said the virtual waiting room screen changed into an apology to inform her that tickets had sold out.
“I was in disbelief and a little bit annoyed because I thought ‘What did I miss?’. I’m not aware if there was a pre-sale period for the event,” she said.
‘I Knew You Were Trouble’
According to a 2022 report by Cybernews, a research-based online publication, bot traffic increased 106% on a year-on-year basis in 2021 alone and is becoming “a massive problem”.
“Scammers often go after these items because tickets have a high resale value, and it takes little effort on their part,” Nathan Duparick, director of product management at online fraud prevention company Forter, was quoted as saying in the report.
“Unfortunately, the ticket vendors themselves and loyal customers, like we saw with Taylor Swift, are the ones who suffer,” he added.
A 2019 report by IQ, a live music business news site, highlighted the sheer scale of the bot problem in the ticketing industry.
The report cited a study by cybersecurity company Distil Networks, which analysed 26.3 billion requests from 180 domains between September and December 2018. It found that ticketing bots are major drivers of traffic on ticketing platforms, with primary ticketing markets identified as the main targets of bot activity (42%), followed by secondary ticketing platforms (24%) and venues (27%).
According to Luke Taylor, founder of Australia-based ad fraud prevention company TrafficGuard, scalpers are turning to bots to buy tickets at a faster rate on websites.
He told LifestyleTech that bots are typically programmed to flood websites with millions of parallel ticket requests, bypass purchasing limits and evade authentication measures like Captchas.
For performing artistes and ticketing companies, he said this approach means they sell out tickets within a short period of time. In worst case scenarios, however, the bots can overwhelm and crash the ticketing system.
“These bots can also access valuable data such as pricing, booking, and discounts, and are often used by ticket scalpers or resellers who aim to buy tickets in bulk and resell them at a higher price,” he said.
How much higher? Resellers on an online marketplace reportedly listed VIP tickets to the sold out BlackPink concert in Kuala Lumpur for up to RM8,000. The tickets were originally priced at RM1,888. Some also listed general admissions tickets for more than double the original price of RM388.
Taylor added that bots for scalping are cheap, simple to use and in some cases, may offer a high return on investment.
“In lieu of major events, scalping bots are ready to purchase these tickets within seconds of these launches, and are able to outcompete individual buyers. Hence, they are able to gather the inventory, thus causing a shortage for regular consumers, and driving up market prices,” he said.
‘The Great War’
Chia acknowledged that bots may be disrupting the ticket-buying process for users in Malaysia.
“I believe that it is happening and we’ve taken a lot of precautions to mitigate the issue,” he said.
Chia claimed that when customers are put into virtual waiting rooms on his website, the process is meant to help them weed out bots or users displaying suspicious network activity.
According to Taylor, one solution for ticketing companies to prevent bots from overwhelming their sites is to collect user identity information and link it to each ticket purchase.
“This approach would resolve the issue right away, similar to the way that flights are sold and ticketed. By doing so, ticketing companies can better ensure that only legitimate buyers are purchasing tickets, and the likelihood of scalpers using bots to buy up large quantities of tickets would be greatly reduced,” he said.
Additionally, he said anti-fraud technology can be used to detect and prevent fraudulent activities, such as those perpetrated by bots.
Anti-fraud technology can help identify and block these bots by analysing patterns of behaviour that are indicative of bot activity, according to numerous online reports. For example, anti-fraud technology may look for unusual patterns of login attempts, such as a high number of attempts from the same IP address within a short period of time.
If a bot is detected, the anti-fraud technology can take action to prevent it from accessing the system, such as blocking its IP address or requiring additional authentication steps, said experts.
‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’
The onus is also on consumers to not support scalpers or resellers by engaging with them. Chia said it’s always best for concertgoers to purchase tickets for events from the official or authorised platform.
In some cases, concertgoers could end up getting scammed with fake tickets. For example, Chia recalled the case of concertgoers who had purchased the same tickets from one reseller with a single genuine ticket.
“The reseller sold a ticket with the same QR codes to 10 buyers and all of them couldn’t enter the venue because the ticket had already been validated. It’s sad when you have to tell people that they may have been scammed,” he said.
Chia also highlighted another case where a concertgoer showed up with 10 tickets that she had purchased from a reseller.
“Only five of the tickets were legitimate and we informed the customer to make a police report against the seller but she said no because she was promised a refund in case the tickets didn’t work. I feel when it comes to buying tickets from online marketplaces or sites like Telegram, most users are just trying their luck,” he said.
It’s disappointing for Chia when concertgoers who have been scammed refuse to make a police report.
“We urge them to do so because we want the authorities to take action against scalpers or resellers who have scammed these people. Otherwise, they will keep doing the same thing to others,” he said.
Para Rajagopal, the founder of concert organiser PR Worldwide, said it’s becoming common to turn away concertgoers because they showed up with fake tickets. He felt some may have fallen victim to scammers due to inexperience.
“We see this happening more often with first time concertgoers. They may not be aware of scams and most of the time, they have paid more (than the original rate) for their tickets.
“The only thing we can do is advise them to make a police report or purchase new tickets from the venue if there is any availability,” he said.
‘Look What You Made Me Do’
As a concert organiser, Para said they are very much concerned about the fan experience. However, he added that there are situations where companies cannot cope with the demand.
“You saw what happened with Ticketmaster and Taylor Swift? There are situations when demand far surpasses the supply or ticket allocation where it’s almost impossible to manage the surge of buyers.
“We’re talking about situations where there’s possibly 10,000 tickets but 100,000 people are waiting to buy them,” he said.
Para said back in 2019 when the company announced ticket sales for an Ed Sheeran concert, he saw a surge of bots and scalpers flooding the ticketing site.
“We saw people experiencing timeouts during the payment and it resulted in some of them not getting their tickets despite having paid. From that situation, we either assign them seats manually or issue a refund. That gave us an indication that we needed to do something more to make sure the system doesn’t crash on customers,” he said.
Para said some companies now do stress tests on their websites for months, adding that some investments – such as having a bigger bandwidth for better traffic management – are also required to provide a smoother experience for users.
“We also talk to our banking partners to make sure the gateway can handle the surge of multiple users making payments at the same time. We even try not to clash with other events that might take place on the same day,” he said.
Taylor added that companies should invest in third-party verification tools and fraud detection technology need to be implemented on a larger scale.
“Businesses should prioritise the adoption of this technology to prevent fraudulent traffic from proliferating. Anti-fraud technology should be considered a critical protection tool for all industries, and should be integrated with other cybersecurity measures,” he said.
‘Shake It Off’
Despite her disappointment, Lee said she understands why tickets sell out fast for some acts considering how they may be performing at a smaller venue.
“At the same time, I hope ticketing companies can set a limit on bulk purchases to ensure that more people have a fair chance to get tickets,” she added.
Lee had considered purchasing a ticket from a reseller for another sold-out concert in Kuala Lumpur but changed her mind when she saw how the tickets could be priced at up to twice the original amount.
“I personally feel it’s not worth the money as there’s always another time and place,” she said.