Ticket resale website Viagogo will face the Federal Court on allegations it duped Australians into paying more for entertainment, music and sporting events.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Monday accused Viagogo of making false or misleading representations, and engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct.
“We allege that Viagogo failed to disclose significant and unavoidable fees upfront in the ticket price, including a 27.6 per cent booking fee for most events and a handling fee,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
Booking and handling fees increased ticket prices by about 30 per cent, ACCC said.
The price of a Book of Mormon ticket increased 31 per cent from $135 to $177.45 when additional fees were added, ACCC said.
Three Ashes tickets increased 29 per cent from $330.15 to $426.82 when a $91.71 booking fee and $4.95 handling fee was added.
Cat Stevens fans were slugged $125 in booking fees and $4.95 in handling fees when the total price for two tickets increased from $450 to $579.95, a 29 per cent increase.
The ACCC also accused Viagogo of misleading Australians by claiming tickets to events were close to selling out, without dislosing this “scarcity” referred to tickets on its website only.
“Viagogo’s statements such as ‘less than 1 per cent of tickets remaining’ creates a sense of urgency for people to buy them straight away, when tickets may have still been available through other ticket sources,” Ms Rickard said.
The ACCC also hit out at Viagogo for promoting itself as an authorised ticket seller through the use of the word ‘official’ in advertisements on search engines like Google.
“By using the word ‘official’, we allege that Viagogo represented in these ads that consumers could buy official original tickets, when in fact Viagogo is a platform for tickets that are being on-sold by others.”
Tom Godfrey, from consumer advocacy group CHOICE, said Viagogo’s “official” tagline “lulls consumers into a false sense of security”. Some Australians had spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on tickets, which later turned out to be invalid, he said.
“The fact that they’re charging significantly higher prices than the face value of the ticket … means they can pour a huge amount of money into Google advertising,” Mr Godfrey told The New Daily.
“These listings for Viagogo come right up the top of the [Google search] list, unfortunately that’s catching a lot of consumers out.
“We’d encourage consumers to think long and hard before buying tickets through that website.”
CHOICE had been “flooded with complaints” about the Swiss-based website, he said.
Complaints were generally in regards to “drip pricing, where the companies advertise one price and drip in unavoidable fees and charges”.
The ACCC has received 473 complaints about Viagogo from Australians this year.
“The ACCC expects all ticket reselling websites to be clear and upfront about the fees they charge, the type of tickets they sell and the nature of their business,” Ms Rickard said.
The watchdog alleges Viagogo breached Australian Consumer Law between May 1 and June 26 this year.
The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective publication orders, orders for a compliance program and costs.
On Sunday, Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean issued an “urgent public warning” against buying tickets from Viagogo.
NSW Fair Trading has received 187 complaints about the website this year, he said.
“Complaints to date have included delayed delivery, events being cancelled, heavily marked-up prices, hidden fees, and failure to provide refund,” he said.
“With most complaints relating to two or more tickets, Fair Trading has estimated around 600 consumers have been ripped off at a cost of almost $130,000.”
Viagogo has been in the top five most complained about traders five times in the Fair Trading monthly Complaints register, Mr Kean said.
CHOICE will announce calls for reform and release findings of an international market study this week.
The New Daily has contacted Viagogo for comment.