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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fake Tigers' tickets anger fans

Fake Tigers' tickets anger fans
Counterfeit stubs result in occupied, nonexistent seats for unlucky few
By James Dowd
Monday, February 25, 2008

Two games, two words: Caveat emptor.

That's the message University of Memphis officials are sending to ticket-challenged fans hoping to gain entry to the Tiger basketball team's final home matchups.

The advice comes on the heels of the Tigers' 66-62 loss to the University of Tennessee on Saturday at FedEx Forum, where bogus tickets left some fans fuming.

An exact count won't be known until today, but at least eight to 10 counterfeit stubs were collected from unlucky fans who entered the building only to discover that their seats didn't exist or were already occupied.

"The last time this happened was back in the '90s during the NCAA tournament at The Pyramid," said Bill Lofton, U of M's associate athletic director for business and finance. "We want people to be careful and strongly encourage them not to buy tickets off people on the street."

With only two regular-season home games remaining -- Tulsa on Wednesday and the University of Alabama-Birmingham on March 8 -- Lofton said the potential for ticket fraud is very real. Added to the problem is the skill of the counterfeiters.

"They're similar in color and the resemblance between real tickets and fake ones is amazing and wouldn't be noticed by most people," Lofton said. "That's why it's important to get them from a legal source or from a ticket holder you know. Otherwise, you're taking a chance."

Those words of wisdom arrived too late for Steve Arena, who paid two men on Main Street nearly $900 for three tickets shortly before Saturday's tipoff. It wasn't his first time to buy same-day tickets from street scalpers, Arena said, and at first he thought it was a good deal.

But when he and his two sons arrived at what they thought were their seats, the occupants informed them their stubs were no good. On top of that, the ticket holders said that several others had fallen for the same scam.

"They said we were the third or fourth group of people who'd come to those seats and none of the tickets were good. They were all fake," Arena said. "Of course we knew then that we'd been taken, but at that point what can you do?"

The best thing, according to FedExForum officials, is not to get into that situation in the first place.

Stephen Zito, senior vice president of operations and entertainment for the Grizzlies and the Forum, said buyers should get tickets at the box office, online or over the phone. Never outside an event.

"You're usually paying much more than face value and you're taking a chance that you may be throwing your money away," Zito said. "And if your ticket is counterfeit, what are the odds that you'll find who sold it to you and get your money back?"

Currently, U of M tickets aren't compatible with the Forum's scanners. But that should be resolved before next basketball season rolls, so those with invalid tickets will be denied admission.

That didn't happen Saturday, when some fans saw the promise of an unbelievable deal vanish like the Tigers' dream of an unbeaten season.

Zito said several scammed fans roamed the concourses, watching the game on monitors. Arena and his sons fared a bit better.

After describing their circumstances to some corporate sponsors they happened to meet, the three were invited to watch the game in The Commercial Appeal's suite.

"We ended up having a great time, but I've definitely learned my lesson," Arena said. "No more scalpers, no way. It's not worth the risk."

-- James Dowd: 901-529-2737

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