TAMPA — Once upon a Game 4, a man and wife from Venice made their way up to Bucs Land. With two red-and-black tickets with holograms, they were ready to cheer their team to victory from seats that cost them $750.
They made it as far as the front gate scanners, where they discovered the tickets they had bought had been stolen. Nearly 80 miles from home, they watched the game on a restaurant TV screen.
It's not an uncommon occurrence, and with lots of sports excitement swirling on both sides of Tampa Bay, the Tampa Police Department is taking steps to make sure fans don't get swindled.
At a news conference Thursday, Sgt. Bill Todd said tickets are usually stolen from cars, homes or offices. When the rightful owner discovers tickets missing, he or she can alert stadium officials, who will issue new tickets. When someone who unknowingly bought the stolen tickets comes to they game, they won't get in.
The case of the Venice couple is still under investigation. Todd would not release their names.
Stolen tickets aren't the only problem. Todd said counterfeiters are so good at what they do that fake tickets are often indistinguishable from real ones. Many are professionally printed, holograms and all.
Todd said there are about 50 cases of stolen tickets each season. There usually are one or two cases of counterfeits. Potential punishment for ticket thieves depends on how they stole the ticket and how much it is worth, he said. Counterfeit is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
He suggested that gamegoers only buy tickets from well-known sources — established dealers, people they know, or the stadium itself.
"If you have a problem with a ticket and you bought it from a guy on the street corner, your luck in finding him is slim to none," Todd said.
He also discourages buying second-hand tickets that were printed from Internet purchases. There's no limit to how many copies of a purchased ticket can be printed, but they've all got the same barcode. Only the first one scanned will allow entrance to the game.
Todd said it's often hard to track down the original thief or counterfeiter because tickets pass through many hands — dealers, scalpers, more scalpers and buyers.
"If you use common sense, you're less likely to become a victim," Todd said. "Be aware of what you're buying and who you're buying from."