More than 80 victims have allegedly been defrauded out of thousands of pounds each after buying hospitality tickets for the Six Nations rugby tournament from an unauthorised seller, Which? can exclusively reveal.
A company called ‘Elite Sports Hospitality’ charged over £10,000 for corporate boxes at Twickenham stadium before ‘cancelling’ the tickets and disappearing with the money.
We explain how victims lost their money and how you can avoid being scammed by unauthorised ticket sellers.
Six Nations tickets from unauthorised seller
The incident has been reported to Action Fraud, who passed on the case to Bedfordshire police.
Today, the police confirmed they received reports from more than 80 people who claim to have been defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. It’s currently investigating the web company that offered the packages.
Which? was contacted by four people who paid Elite Sports Hospitality from £7,500 to £10,200 plus VAT, believing they were buying a glass-fronted private box with a Champagne reception and four-course lunch for 20 people at the Six Nations Rugby tournament.
The tickets were then ‘cancelled’ by the firm, which promised refunds that did not materialise. The firm has now disabled all of its phone lines and ignored pleading emails from its customers, most of whom were originally contacted via their work email addresses.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has confirmed that Elite Sports Hospitality (Elite Direct Marketing and Advertising Ltd) is not an authorised seller and has no known legitimate third-party arrangement to offer executive boxes at Twickenham:
‘We have been made aware of this operator and have brought them to the attention of the police… Our message to fans is clear – if you buy from an unofficial source, there is a very good chance you won’t get in, so don’t risk it.’
Which? also spoke to the Oxford business park registered as the most recent business address. It told us that the company had previously paid for a ‘virtual office’ (essentially a mail-handling service) but the contract was terminated last year after it failed to pay its bill for three months in a row.
Who are Elite Sports Hospitality?
The Elite Sports Hospitality website (set up only a year ago) was still live at the time of writing, although the company accounts are long overdue and it has ignored repeated attempts from Which? to respond to our investigation.
Elite Sports Hospitality is officially registered as ‘Elite Direct Marketing and Advertising Ltd’ on Companies House.
Despite the similarity in name, Which? is unaware of any connection to a separate company known as Elite Hospitality, and registered as Elite Sports Hospitality Limited, which has been dissolved since October last year.
Read our advice on how to spot and avoid dodgy ticketing sites.
Watch out for bank-transfer scams
Sadly, the victims we spoke to are highly unlikely to get their money back – because they all made bank transfers to Elite Sports Hospitality.
Transferring money into another bank account isn’t protected in the same way as direct debits or card payments. If you realise you’ve been scammed, your bank must try to recover the funds once they’re notified, but they aren’t legally obliged to refund losses.
In 2016, Which? submitted a super-complaint calling for better protection against bank-transfer scams. The regulator responded with plans to introduce a contingent reimbursement scheme to provide consumers with an avenue for recovering money lost to fraudsters, as well as introducing confirmation of payee on transfers.
How to buy Six Nations hospitality tickets safely
The RFU says hospitality for NatWest Six Nations fixtures can be bought via an official licensed operator, and provided the following list of official licensed operators that are still in action for the England v Ireland match on 17 March 2018:
- Mike Burton Corporate Hospitality Ltd
- Smart Experiences
- Hospitality Finder
- Engage Hospitality
- Events International.
From autumn 2018, all official match-day hospitality will be delivered within Twickenham Stadium with England Rugby Hospitality the exclusive provider.
Staying safe online
Bedforshire police has also offered its advice on buying tickets online safely:
- Always be suspicious if a website asks you to make a bank transfer instead of paying by card. Pay by credit cards, especially for larger purchases, as they can provide protection if things go wrong with a purchase.
- Watch out for fake websites. It’s very easy for cyber-criminals to create a spoofed website that looks like an official retailer and then offer ‘unbelievable’ deals. Remember to always check the URL of the website and look out for domain names that end in .net or .org.
- Make sure the site is secure. Check for ‘https’ at the start of the website URL. The ‘s’ stands for secure. Look for a padlock on the left of the browser. If the padlock is on the page itself this is probably a spoof website. (Which? says: This doesn’t guarantee it isn’t a scam site but it does mean the connection is secure).
- Also check for customer reviews, if a company is not reputable other customers will have made comments to deter you from using them.
Find out more: Which? tips for staying safe online