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Scalpers handed $31m in penalties in first US BOTS Act case

Three New York-based ticket resellers have been handed civil penalties totalling more than $30m in the first order under the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act.

Just in Time Tickets, Inc., Cartisim Corp., and Concert Specials, Inc. and their owners were accused of using bots to purchase concert and sports events tickets and then sell them at inflated prices in a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the BOTS Act, which was introduced in 2016.

The FTC alleged that the defendants — Cartisim and owner Simon Ebrani; Just In Time Tickets and Evan Kohanian; and Concert Specials and Steven Ebrani — purchased more than 150,000 tickets from Ticketmaster that were then resold for millions of dollars in revenues. The defendants were alleged to have circumvented Ticketmaster’s restrictions on users holding multiple accounts by creating accounts in the names of family members, friends, and fictitious individuals, and using hundreds of credit cards.

According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), they also used ticket bots to fool tests designed to prevent non-human visitors. In addition, the complaints asserted that the defendants used programs to conceal the IP addresses of the computers they used to make purchases. 

Under the terms of the proposed settlement between the US authorities and the defendants, the firms and their owners will be recorded as having received civil penalties totalling $31.6m. Due to their inability to pay that amount, the judgment will be partially suspended, requiring them to pay $3.7m.

“These ticket brokers used bots and other technical tricks to scoop up thousands of tickets to popular events as soon as they went on sale,” said Andrew M. Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Not only does this deprive loyal fans of the chance to see their favorite performers and shows, it is against the law.”

The stipulated orders against the defendants also contain terms to prohibit them from using ticket bots or other computer programs to defeat access controls, from concealing the IP addresses of computers they use to make ticket purchases, and from purchasing tickets from any credit or debit account in the name of anyone other than the defendants or their corporate officers and employees.  Under the terms, the defendants must also maintain records and provide compliance reports to the government.

Brian Boynton, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said: “These defendants are alleged to have cheated the system to the detriment of consumers.

“Today’s filing serves notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the Better Online Ticket Sales Act in appropriate cases. We are pleased to work with our partners at the Federal Trade Commission on this and other matters important to consumers.”

The BOTS Act aims to prevent ticket brokers from buying large numbers of event tickets and reselling them to interested customers at marked-up prices. To achieve that goal, the BOTS Act prohibits a person from circumventing access controls or measures used by online ticket sellers to enforce ticket-purchasing limits.  It also prevents the resale of tickets obtained by knowingly circumventing access controls.

The BOTS Act applies to public concerts, theatre performances, sporting events, and similar events at venues having a seating capacity over 200. Congress also made it illegal to sell tickets if the seller participated in their illegal purchase or knew (or should have known) that they were acquired in violation of the law.

The law grants enforcement to the FTC, which can take civil action against those who use bot software. It also allows state attorneys general to take similar action.

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