Police, Pirates warn of counterfeit tickets as team looks toward playoffs
By Tony LaRussa
Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
With just 25 games to go and the Pirates gunning for a division title, fans are giddy at the prospect of seeing the team in the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades.
But team officials and local law enforcement are cautioning fans not to let playoff fever turn them into prey for thieves out to make a quick buck on bogus Buccos tickets.
“High demand for playoff tickets drives the price up, so we always find some counterfeits sold to fans when the Steelers or Penguins are in the playoffs,” said Pittsburgh police Sgt. John Fisher, who coordinates the undercover operations that try to stop illegal scalping and the sale of counterfeit merchandise and tickets.
“If the Pirates make the playoffs, I'm sure we'll encounter some people who are unpleasantly surprised when they go to have their tickets scanned and learn they're fakes.”
Fisher said it can be difficult for police to nab those hawking counterfeit tickets.
“They usually come in from out of town, sell 10 or 20 high-priced tickets for cash and then leave,” he said. “The buyers don't know the tickets are fake until they get to the turnstile and it can't be scanned.”
Pirates' season-ticket holders were notified early last week that they will have the first crack at buying postseason ticket strips, which cover all the games played at PNC Park. Fans who buy season tickets for 2014 also will get a chance to buy postseason tickets for this year.
The Pirates have not yet finalized a design for the postseason tickets, said team spokesman Brian Warecki.
“The hope is to be in the position by the end of September to unveil the design of the ticket strips and what fans should be on the lookout for if purchasing in the secondary marketplace,” he said.
Even though the actual tickets will not be available for several weeks, a number of ads have already been posted on the Pittsburgh Craigslist website offering them for sale.
One seller tried to add legitimacy to the sale by including a copy of an invoice showing the price for the postseason ticket strips. Another included a photo of the field taken from the seats that are being sold.
While poorly made counterfeit tickets often have telltale flaws such as low-quality paper, ink smears, incorrect dates and spelling errors, spotting a well-crafted fake “can be really hard,” Fisher said.
“I've seen a lot of counterfeit tickets over the years, but some of the ones from the Steelers' AFC Championship game (in 2011) were so good you can't tell them apart from the real ones,” he said.
Major League Baseball officials try to keep a step ahead of counterfeiters by making the tickets hard to produce, said league spokesman Jeff Heckelman.
“The tickets are high-quality productions that include multiple security features to thwart counterfeiters such as holographic markings that are very difficult to reproduce as well as covert markings,” he said.
Scalpers who want to avoid fines or arrest can buy a peddlers license from the city and sell tickets — for face value or less — along North Shore and Tony Dorsett drives.
But there is no guarantee the tickets they sell are legitimate.
“There have been instances where tickets have been stolen and replaced by the teams,” Fisher said. “The original tickets are then sold to a scalper who doesn't know they aren't any good and in turn sells them to an unsuspecting citizen.”
Warecki said the only way fans can avoid being scammed with bogus postseason tickets is to buy them directly from the team or its various distributors, or to sign up for a 2014 season ticket package that will give them “postseason ticket priority.”
The Pirates also recommend the secondary ticket seller StubHub, which is authorized by the league and guarantees authenticity.
Fisher agreed that buying from legitimate sources is the best way to avoid being ripped off.
“If you get the tickets any other way, then it's buyer beware,” he said.
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or email@example.com.
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