In 2017 we investigated the secondary ticketing market – websites that allow tickets to major events to be resold, after they have been bought from the official source.
Working with sister organisations in New Zealand and the UK, we heard from over 1000 consumers who had used these sites. Many had thought they were buying from the venue or event, rather than a ticket resale site. Some had been sold fraudulent tickets, and were denied entry when they turned up at the event. Many had been tricked into paying hidden fees.
The biggest culprit by far was a business called Viagogo, based in Switzerland. If you've ever searched for tickets online, you will have come across Viagogo. You may not have realised it, because the link probably said it was for the 'official' ticket seller for the event. If so, that was a lie.
Seeing the wave of complaints about Viagogo, consumer groups and regulators swung into action. We gave Viagogo a Shonky Award and lodged a complaint with the ACCC. The ACCC took it to the Federal Court, which found Viagogo guilty of misleading conduct, for misleading pricing, claiming that tickets were scarce and portraying itself as the official seller.
Google must accept that its enormous power to influence our choices comes with a responsibility to ensure that it isn't facilitating scams
In July 2019, Google finally gave way to pressure and stopped taking ads from Viagogo. We welcomed this move, because it shut down Viagogo's main path to lure unsuspecting customers.
For Google however, Viagogo's advertising budget was too good to pass up. In late 2019, ads for Viagogo started turning up in search results again.
Both Google and Viagogo say the problems have been solved, but investigations by CHOICE and Consumer New Zealand have revealed that's far from true. Tickets are advertised in Australian dollars but when you go to pay, you may find they've changed to Euros or US dollars, meaning you may be hit with a currency conversion fee. Viagogo is still failing to disclose that tickets may be fake, meaning that there's a chance that you'll be turned away at the door. And Viagogo uses a range of tricks to make you think that tickets are about to sell out unless you buy immediately – which is often far from true.
Viagogo has no place in the Australian market while it continues to engage in misleading business practices. But Viagogo is not the only culprit here. Google must accept that its enormous power to influence our choices comes with a responsibility to ensure that it isn't facilitating scams. It needs to stop taking money from a business whose entire model rests on ripping off consumers.