Scalping's illegal in Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t stop scalpers from selling tickets to fans, and huge headliners, from Taylor Swift to Shania Twain, have them hopping all summer. They’re easy to spot, especially around the Verizon Center, on show night or before the big game. It’s such a problem the Washington Capitals sent out a fraud alert warning to fans during the NHL playoffs.
“They’re here pretty much year around,” said Verizon Center General Manager David Touhey. But he warned fans should resist the temptation. "Their hope is they're going to sell it for more than the box office. You don't always get a good deal and you run a high risk of it being counterfeit or it being faulty," Touhey explained.
With undercover cameras rolling, the News4 I-Team hit the streets during those playoffs to see what kind of sales pitch it would hear among the sea of red jerseys. One scalper who approached the I-Team on the corner said the game was sold out but that he had tickets for $200 in the upper level 400 section. “I mean, nobody got no lower ones out here,” he told the I-Team.
Another scalper standing near the front entrance hawking tickets normally going for $89 claimed they were right near the action. He wanted $200 for them and said they were down on the ice. But later, inside the Verizon Center, the I-Team checked out those “floor” seats and found they were nowhere near the ice. Instead, he was selling tickets three levels up in the standing room only section.
Most of the scalpers the I-Team talked to admitted they work every concert and that it’s their main job. Some said they’ve been scalping for 30 years, but most were tight-lipped about where they get the tickets -- except one scalper at a recent New Kids on the Block concert, who spilled some of his secrets. He said he buys most of his tickets the day of the show or game from two sources. He said he gets them from other fans on the street or he buys them directly from the box office, because some venues release tickets, previously held back, the day of an event. He told the I-Team his biggest haul in one night was $4,000 at the Hannah Montana concert a few years back, including two tickets he said he sold for $1,600, 10 times their face value. But the insider warned there are scalpers out there who sell fake tickets or multiple copies of the same electronic tickets, meaning only the first fan gets a seat.
More than two years ago, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier cracked down on street scalping after an I-Team investigation showed some officers not enforcing the law and how two teens lost $500 when they unknowingly bought fake tickets on the street for a Justin Bieber concert. At the time, Chief Lanier said, "We send teams of officers out to go after scalpers randomly. It’s not every single event because I don’t have the luxury.” She said it’s a balancing act for officers on crowd control and conducting other safety enforcement.
But multiple scalpers at the NKOTB concert told the I-Team police normally will not do anything as long as they don't make the sell right in front of them, and one scalper even said he’s sold tickets to police officers, most recently for the hockey playoffs. We wanted to talk to the chief again about the scalping problem that hasn't gone away. But a spokeswoman said, "We cannot accommodate your request," only saying there had been sixteen arrests since 2014.
The I-Team has learned from four different sources that there’s been discussion with some D.C. councilmembers about possibly changing the scalping law, including one idea of creating a "scalping zone" where tickets could be legally bought and sold. Unless that happens, anyone selling tickets on the streets of D.C. can still be arrested, even if it seems many are looking the other way.
The Verizon Center’s David Touhey offered a few tips on buying tickets:
- Only buy verified tickets from sites like Ticketmaster as opposed to third party sites.
- The venue is more likely to help you with any issues if it’s a verified ticket.
- Buy tickets using a credit card so you can dispute the charges if needed.
- You have a better shot of scoring better seats if you purchase tickets at the box office when they first go on sale. He said few people actually show up in person anymore.
- You can also try to purchase tickets online while standing in line at the box office to improve your chances.
- Always check with the box office for any tickets still available the day of a concert or event, even if people say it’s sold out.