Crab-scam has hit Kansas City.
As many as 290 people may have purchased tickets for “Mo’s Crab and Chowder Fest,” to be held Jan. 20 inside Two Pershing Square, an office building near Union Station.
For $40, they were promised “All You Can Eat Dungeness Crab,” New England clam chowder, pasta, bread, salad, a live band, wine, beer and a “full no-host bar.”
It’s a scam.
“This is not us. We have no event at this address,” said Deborah Nash, with Kessinger/Hunter & Co., the commercial property manager for Two Pershing Square.
It surely won’t be the last fake event to sell tickets online or target unsuspecting consumers through popular online calendars. Luckily, there are ways to avoid them.
Nash said she learned about the fake event thanks to a phone call recently received at the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, one of the building’s tenants. The association confirmed a woman had called — had been calling everyone she could find — trying to cancel her tickets because she had a conflict.
Notice of the event had spread widely through online calendars, including ones at The Kansas City Star, AARP and Fox4KC, each of which uses a different outside vendor to produce its online calendar.
If that many people shelled out $40 each, that’s an easy $11,400 for the fraudsters.
“We see these fake event postings pop up fairly regularly across the country,” said Jessie Schmidt, the South Dakota state director for the Better Business Bureau in Omaha, Neb.
Fake festivals sell tickets and fake races collect entry fees, Schmidt said. Their number is increasing, she said, partly because it is so easy to create a Facebook event page to promote them.
That’s also how Kansas City’s crab-scam was first discovered — in November.
“We have Google alerts set up on our event names, so it popped up,” said Christine Clair, the winery director behind the real Mo’s Crab & Chowder Festival in Oregon.
The alert sent Clair to a Facebook page, which has been taken down.
It was promoting fake Mo’s Crab festivals in Sioux Falls, S.D., and in Kansas City. She saw that the perpetrators had taken the real festival’s crab logo as well as its name and were charging a lot more money. Her event costs $10 to $15.
Clair alerted the Better Business Bureau in Omaha, which covers South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Its efforts to investigate, including one posting’s reference to Zelebrations as the organizer, led nowhere.
“It was like a shell game. Nothing really connected with anything else. It was a constant moving target,” Schmidt said.
She said some tickets for the Sioux Falls event were sold through Eventbrite, a website that handles millions of tickets each week for events large and small. Its website says event organizers can “start selling in minutes” on Eventbrite.
When Schmidt contacted Eventbrite, it took down the Sioux Falls and Kansas City postings.
“Our Trust and Safety team leverages machine learning technology to help detect fake listings before they are published, and also perform manual reviews to detect, confirm, and prevent suspicious activity on our platform,” Amanda Livingood, an Eventbrite spokeswoman, said in an email.
She said these help detect “suspicious activity” that Eventbrite teams can check out perhaps by reviewing documentation, researching or contacting the event organizer.
The site also relies on feedback, such as that from the Omaha Better Business Bureau, to spot fakes.
Livingood said the Kansas City and Sioux Falls event posts were taken off Eventbrite after it was “determined they were not taking place as advertised.”
“The account has been locked so the organizer is no longer able to create events on Eventbrite,” she said.
Livingood said Eventbrite does not disclose details about organizers or their events but would comply with law enforcement or a subpoena.
Some who post events on Eventbrite seem to be spoofing fake events, possibly to demonstrate how easy it is to promote them.
One example is “The sickest fake event ever,” which costs $53.03, including fees, and is scheduled for Jan. 27 at 801 Market St. in Philadelphia. That’s the address for the Strawbridge and Clothier building, which houses the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News newspapers and many government offices.
An event last month was listed on Eventbrite simply as “Fake Event,” organized by “Me” and being held in “Fakeland.” It was free, according to the post still visible at Eventbrite. The post includes a photo of a woman, a man and a llama.
Eventful, which had provided The Star’s online calendar that included the fake Kansas City event, confirmed it took down the posting. A spokeswoman added that “a registered user manually added the event to the site” and to many others. The Star changed to a different vendor at the start of this year.
“We do have a vetting process that focuses on filtering any objectionable content among the many events we see each week,” Esther-Mireya Tejeda, with Eventful’s owner Entercom, said in an email.
She did not respond to a request for more information about the vetting.
There were some signs that the Kansas City crab festival listing was a fake.
Often, fake notices contain poor grammar, typographical errors and misspellings. Don’t trust those posts, consumer advocates say.
Several versions of the Kansas City event, though not all of them, made a reference to “Mo’s Seaffod Company” or showed that ticket sales for the January event would not begin until Nov. 1, 2018.
Some event calendar vendors, however, try to catch these kinds of mistakes and fix the postings.
Webedia editors, for example, review all event postings for grammar, style and presentation, said Lisa Lawler, director of the company’s EventSource. Webedia provides The Star’s online calendar.
“Call the place where it’s being held,” said Ed Magedson, editor of the Ripoff Report online.
He suggests finding the venue’s phone number yourself and then asking not only whether the event is booked for the date indicated but also whether the booking already has been paid for.
“If they didn’t pay for it, yet, I’d wait” before buying tickets, Magedson said.
His other advice is to pay only by credit card. No debit cards, GreenDot prepaid debit card, MoneyGram or Western Union money transfers, or postal money order.
Consumers can challenge payment by credit card if something turns out to be fraudulent. There generally is no such protection with the other ways to pay.