University of Florida student Sophia Alvarez was so excited at the prospect of seeing Taylor Swift, who brings her tour to Tampa next month for three sold-out shows.
When she received a GroupMe message that someone was selling three tickets for the April 15 performance at Raymond James Stadium, Alvarez jumped at the chance.
It’s been a tough ticket to land. Swift apologized after the crush of fans attempting to buy tickets overwhelmed the ticketing system when they first went on sale. Anyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to score tickets directly has had to go through ticket brokers or private parties.
Alvarez tried to buy from a private party. That turned out to be a mistake.
The person selling the tickets sent Alvarez a personal photo and their University of Florida Gator ID, and Alvarez did the same. She haggled the price down to $450 for the three tickets.
Alvarez, 18, said she sent $50 to the seller through the money-transaction app Zelle, agreeing to send the rest after she received the tickets. The tickets would never come. Alvarez was scammed.
She got a message from her bank telling her that she was a victim of fraud. Her mother, Lisbeth Alvarez, went to the UF Directory to look up the student who was attempting to sell the tickets and found a different phone number than the one her daughter was texting.
After speaking to the student’s mother, they realized that the student was also a victim of a scammer and that their identification had been cloned by someone posing as the student.
“Two students reached out to her to inquire where the tickets were that they bought from her when in fact she did not sell any tickets nor collect any money,” her mother said.
And because Alvarez sent her ID to someone else, the cycle has continued. She got threatening messages from people scammed out of their money, thinking that Alvarez was to blame.
Alvarez filed a police report and eventually got her money back through the bank. But it serves as a cautionary tale about buying tickets from third parties. Learning the do’s and don’ts of online buying can make the difference between losing money and actually seeing Taylor Swift.
Gracey Davis, 19, is a UF student and a huge Taylor Swift fan. So big that to buy merchandise, she joins many Taylor Swift fan groups on Facebook. These groups constantly share information about possible scams. In doing so, she has learned her fair share of tips so that buyers do not get scammed.
“Always use PayPal goods and services when buying or selling,” Davis said.
“You can typically tell when people are scamming when they refuse to use it. It charges a small fee to the seller, but it guarantees that you can file a claim to get your money back if something goes wrong,” she said.
Actions like refusing to use PayPal, misspelling words, unresponsiveness and asking for the buyer to pay the fee to the seller for goods and services are all typical red flags.
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The payment request is also key. If a seller suspects the buyer is pulling back, they may suggest that the buyer send half the amount of money before they send the tickets, and the other half after. But at that point, if the money is transferred the scammer can just ignore or block the buyer.
“I also recommend that if buying through Facebook groups, don’t use a marketplace chat room. The seller can block you and be protected by the chat room so you can’t do anything to report them,” Davis said.
Check how long the seller has been in the group. People who always make scam accounts will come in selling things for low prices after joining and fly under the radar because they are new. While this is not always true, always check out their personal account history to figure out how long it’s been active. If it is brand new, it could be a scam.
Kemper Reback is a UF student who was almost scammed by a GroupMe infiltrator. She wanted to get Taylor Swift tickets for her and her younger sisters, so she messaged a guy she saw in a GroupMe chat selling tickets for one of the Tampa shows.
The seller wouldn’t call her and sent a cropped generic screen shot of the tickets that could be easily found online. He then became angry when Reback declined to send him money without a proper way to verify the tickets. Suspicious, Reback didn’t go through with it.
“It’s sad that someone would go to that length of a story to scam a student. You can tell it’s sketchy when the person is being super rushed and pushy toward you to send the money,” Reback said.
As for Alvarez? She still hasn’t landed tickets to any of the shows.
Debra Garcia is a junior journalism student at the University of Florida. She reported this story for a class assignment. She is from Tampa.