Tuesday, August 18, 2015

SEPTA on lookout for scammers with Pope rail pass lottery

Posted: Monday, August 3, 2015

Within hours of the opening Monday of SEPTA’s online lottery for the chance to purchase rail passes for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia next month, the first suspected scalper was snagged.

The person entered 75 times — using the same email — despite the one entry limit posted on the online registration page, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.
The entrant was promptly removed, she added.
SEPTA received more than 38,000 entries for 350,000 special rail passes available for purchase for Sept. 26-27, when the pope will be visiting Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families. The transit agency is making 175,000 rail passes available for sale on each of the two days.
What it won’t know for sure is how many of those passes will be re-sold for more than the $5 or $10 face value. But Bucks County’s top consumer chief said his department is anticipating that an array of scams will arise over the rail ticket sales.
The one-day-only lottery registration — which replaced SEPTA’s previous open online sale plan — started Monday at 12:01 a.m. and closed at 11:59 p.m.
Since each entrant can request up to 10 tickets for each of the two days (maximum of 20 passes), 760,000 ticket requests may have been logged.
Regional Rail service is expected to be at capacity during the pope’s weekend visit, and SEPTA will be operating trains from only 18 stations, including five in Bucks County and two in Montgomery County.
The stations in Bucks are Croydon, Cornwells Heights, Levittown, Warminster and Woodbourne.
In Montgomery County, they are Pennbrook and Fort Washington. A total of 40,000 tickets will be sold for the five Bucks stations alone, Williams said.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and Independence Mall on Sept. 26. The next day he is scheduled to meet with bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Lower Merion, visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia and celebrate Mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
SEPTA is using Ticket Leap, a Philadelphia-based online ticket sales and event marketing company, to handle the lottery. Williams said the transit agency anticipates Ticket Leap will take two days to screen the entries and remove any that appear fraudulent, duplicate or otherwise suspicious, Williams said.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching a representative from Ticket Leap for comment Monday on how it roots out suspect entries.
The entries remaining after the screening will be randomly selected and notified by email Thursday that they are eligible to buy passes through a secure page.
But once the passes are purchased, there is no way to ensure the buyer is the one who will use them, SEPTA acknowledged. The passes are not marked with the purchaser’s name.
“There is a possibility of passes being resold at higher prices,” SEPTA spokeswoman Heather Redfern said. “However, we hope that, given the spirit of the event, people will not take advantage and scalp tickets.”
Preventing scalpers was part of the reason SEPTA opted to go with a lottery system for the rail pass sales after the first try at ticket sales last month resulted in an overloaded system, Williams said.
“With this lottery, we’ve eliminated the desperate rush and the potential for people just purchasing them to sell for higher than face value,” she added
Pennsylvania doesn’t forbid the re-sale of tickets — even rail passes — for prices above the face value, the practice generally known as scalping.
The law only requires that individuals who want to sell tickets at higher-than-marked prices either have a physical business presence in the state with a business address that is clearly posted on the website or that they obtain a business license. The seller also must guarantee purchasers it will provide a refund if the event is canceled or if the ticket received does not allow the purchaser to enter.
Bucks County’s Director of Consumer Protection Mike Bannon said Monday that he isn’t so concerned about scalpers re-selling papal rail passes as much as he is concerned scammers will try and pass off the rail passes as tickets to events featuring the pope.
“We are pretty sure there are going to be quite a few scams,” Bannon said.
Besides scalpers, Bannon anticipates crooks will attempt to sell counterfeit rail passes.
Another big concern for Bannon is once SEPTA announces it has started contacting lottery winners he’ll start to see email scams or calls involving scammers pretending to be SEPTA representatives to get credit card and other personal information under the guise of purchasing a rail pass.
Those waiting to hear if they won a special rail pass should be sure not to provide personal or financial information in an email, Bannon said. Another hint a scammer is likely behind the email is poor spelling and grammar.
If the person is directed to a website to enter credit card information, they should check the URL to make sure it’s a secured site. Look for a URL address that says Https:// — if the URL doesn’t have an “s” at the end, it’s not a secure site and likely a scam, Bannon said.
“Where there is big money, there are big scams,” he added. “It’s going to be prime territory for scammers unfortunately.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@calkins.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia

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