The heartbreaking impact of a worldwide Internet ticket scam is only now becoming clear, as victims arrive in Beijing without the Olympics tickets they thought they had purchased months ago. Among the victims is a California man who may now be unable to watch his 16-year-old daughter compete in swimming events. The father of a U.S. softball team player also says he was scammed after he paid $3,500 for tickets to the opening ceremony.
The victims thought they had purchased their tickets from a Web site named BeijingTicketing.com. The authentic-looking site has been selling Olympics tickets for months before it was shut down this week. The site was named in a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by the International Olympic committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee on July 22.
Gerald Lim, a dentist from of Rancho Mirage, Calif., is among those who say they spent thousands of dollars at the site but now have nothing but broken dreams to show for it. Lim's daughter, Lynette, is a high-school swimming phenom who qualified for Singapore’s swim team thanks to the family's status as dual citizens.
Gerald Lim said that in June he spent more than $3,000 on 3 tickets for himself, his wife and his other daughter to attend preliminary rounds for three events – the 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle races -- where his daughter would compete.
"I contacted a travel agent who recommended the site," he said. "The agent said swimming tickets are hard to get, even harder than the opening ceremony." When Lim found tickets for sale at BeijingTicketing.com, he said the agent told him the site was "100 percent reliable." The site was the first link provided by search engines like Google when he went online looking for Olympics tickets, Lim said.
But Lim -- and perhaps thousands of others -- found out last week that they weren’t going to get the tickets they paid for.
Lim received an e-mail on Monday from the site, saying, "We regret to inform you that our suppliers have not been able to honour their commitments to us in supplying tickets for the Summer Olympics, despite having received written assurances from these suppliers. We are given to understand that they have placed themselves in to bankruptcy."
In a cruel irony, Lim holds tickets for several of the women's swimming finals, thanks to the Singapore Olympic team. But his daughter is unlikely to reach the finals, and he now lacks tickets for the preliminary events.
Remarkably, Lim seemed to be taking the bad news in stride when contacted Tuesday by msnbc.com in Singapore, just before he left for China.
"I have my daughter competing in the Olympics, and that's really great," he said. "Everything has to be kept in perspective."
Lim said he has heard from other victims, including the family of another Singaporean swimmer who was taken by the site.
David Lowe of Tustin, Calif., fortunately has tickets to see his daughter, Caitlin, chase the gold medal as part of the women's softball team, which he purchased from an official U.S. ticket seller, CoSports.com. But he wanted to see her march with her fellow U.S. Olympians during the opening ceremony. CoSports.com was sold out, so Lowe found his way to BeijingTicketing.com in December and spent $1,850 each for two tickets.
The company was thorough, he said, even requiring him to send in passport photos for the tickets – standard practice for this Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies.
Lowe said he "thought the prices were high," but figured that was standard for a ticket broker service.
Web site for vicitms
Houston-based attorney Jim Moriarty is another victim. He paid $12,000 for tickets to many high-profile events, including the opening and closing ceremonies.
Unlike Lowe, he now finds himself holding plane tickets to China, but not much else. He still plans to leaves for Beijing on Wednesday, having spent thousands of dollars on a two-week trip there, without a single ticket for any Olympic event.
"It's not the money," said Moriarity, who like most victims will likely be reimbursed by his credit card company. "It's that I planned for two years for this trip, spent tens of thousands of dollars to be there, spent vacation time, and now instead of packing my camera for the opening ceremony all I can do is go there and read a newspaper."
Furious over the scam, he set up a Web site called BeijingTicketScam.com, which went live Saturday night. Already, he has heard from 38 other victims, including the Lim family.
"The real harm here is this girl has spent eight years of her life getting ready to be on the world stage, and she needs to be thinking about that, and instead she's thinking about how her mom and dad got screwed out of tickets. That's not right," he said.
If the Web site ultimately proves to be a scam, it's unclear how its makers profited from it. In other Web site scams, con artists set up fake merchant accounts along with fake Web sites to collect credit card payments, then quickly move payments into untraceable accounts. By the time consumers complain about the scam, it's too late for banks to recover the money.
'Don't know what I'm going to do in China'
Another victim, Johnny Wang of Cupertino, Calif., said his wife and son are already in Beijing expecting to see the U.S. Olympic basketball team play. He stayed behind to complete a few remaining tasks at work and will join them, -- and share the bad news -- later this week.
"I am going to have to tell my son next week that we will not be able to go to the Olympics basketball game to cheer his stars, Kobe, LaBron ... that I had promised to take him to," he said. "Telling him this is going to be harder for me than losing the money."
Victims appear to come from all over the world. A writer identifying himself as Cassio Eduardo from Brazil said he bought 10 tickets from BeijingTicketing.com and planned his trip across the world accordingly. He arrives in Beijing on Thursday.
"I really don't know what I'm going to do in China," he said.
Asking for help from IOC
Moriarity has called on the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee to help victims make arrangements with Chinese officials to obtain tickets once they arrive in China. He blames them for not stepping in sooner. Earlier this year, questions were raised about "unofficial" ticket sites like BeijingTicketing.com, including a scathing story that appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian. That story concluded that the group behind Beijingticking.com had been involved in other fraudulent online ticket scams in Britain, sellikng consumers tickets to high-profile rock concerts and soccer matches that never arrived.
"The (International Olympic Committee) knew about this in March and didn’t do much," he said.
Tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies are carefully guarded, and include microchips printed with the ticket holder's photograph and passport number. The tickets are not transferable now, so even those scam victims willing to pay top dollar for scalped tickets in Beijing will be locked out, Moriarity said.
"A lot of people can still be accommodated, if there were some adjustments to the transfer rules." he said.
U.S. Olympic Committee officials who can speak about the ticket controversy are all in Beijing, according to a spokeswoman for the committee. A message left for the officials was not immediately returned.
BeijingTicketing.com was sued by the IOC and USOC in both Arizona and California. But Moriarity said those lawsuits will not get far; the U.S. addresses are fake he said, and he believes the operators of the ticket scam are actually in the United Kingdom.
Last week, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers issued a consumer warning about the site after receiving several complaints from consumers.