Some 11 million U.S. consumers were scammed into buying fake or nonexistent live concert tickets last year — a trend that puts tremendous pressure on ticket-selling platforms to ensure they only engage with legitimate customers. In the new Digital Fraud Tracker, Ticketmaster’s Chief Information Officer Gui Karyo explains how the company uses machine learning tools to distinguish fans from fraudsters.
Almost 94 million American consumers bought concert tickets last year, but a significant share of those music fans were in for unpleasant experiences.
Approximately 12 percent of live concert attendees — about 11 million people — fell victim to ticket scams last year, including those in which consumers purchased fake tickets or paid for ones that ultimately never materialized. Schemes like these can ruin fans’ overall experiences and reflect poorly on ticket vendors that fail to prevent fraudulent sales on their platforms.
Digital events platform Ticketmaster is all too familiar with such issues and has worked to earn consumers’ trust by balancing seamlessness and security. Gui Karyo, the company’s chief information officer, noted that Ticketmaster has invested in solutions that both stop fraudulent ticket sales and recognize fans’ behaviors to enhance their overall experiences. Karyo discussed how the platform’s Verified Fan and SafeTix initiatives encourage friction-free and safe buyer experiences.
“[We] think about our system not just [as] about the delivery of an item, but as a platform of relationships and [entitlements] where what we know about the consumer augments their experience to [both] give us better fidelity and give them a better experience as a whole,” Karyo said.
Getting to Know Fans With Data
Ticketmaster is one of many online ticket sale platforms that have acted to protect their offerings against emerging threats, such as account takeover (ATO) attacks and credit card fraud. Karyo said that getting ahead of these threats is essential for Ticketmaster to successfully connect fans with the tickets they rightfully purchased.
“Our principal lens is on the fan experience — making sure that [from the start] we are confident that real fans have [the] first and best access to tickets that go on sale,” Karyo said.
He said the company’s Verified Fan program delivers that vision by providing “preferential treatment” to legitimate users. The offering allows Ticketmaster users to register for early announcements about shows they may be interested in attending and then make purchases through unique access codes provided by the company to ensure that fans, not bots, are given the first chances to buy tickets.
The program’s goal is twofold, Karyo said. The first mission is to help artists and event promoters better connect with fans and provide them with earlier ticket access, and the second focuses on data collection and developing a clearer understanding of users trying to access the system. This helps differentiate legitimate customers from bad actors.
“Pragmatically, [the service] is a point of friction [for bad actors] and validation [for legitimate fans] to get greater insights and understanding of who is coming into [our] ecosystem to buy tickets, so that we can give preferential treatment to fans first,” Karyo said.
Fans are asked to verify their identities either through Ticketmaster directly or partner sites. Data collected from these steps is paired with the company’s own review to ensure that tickets being sold or resold through the platform are legitimate and going to real buyers. The service uses machine learning (ML) technology to assign user scores that allow Ticketmaster to feel more confident that tickets are going where they should.
“Some of our most interesting machine learning work is really around driving [consumer benefits] so that as real consumers come into the site, they are given a smooth experience that is unfettered by the friction we want to put in front of bad actors,” Karyo said.
Keeping Tickets Secure
Ticketmaster recently started a new service to ensure tickets stay with legitimate customers until the moment they are used to enter venues or resold. The company’s SafeTix technology was launched in partnership with the National Football League and provides users with unique barcodes that constantly refresh, thus preventing them from being stolen or duplicated by fraudsters. Karyo said the service addresses a common vulnerability of tickets — their static barcode images.
“The moment you take a screenshot or PDF and pass a static image around, there is little if anything we can do to protect that chain of custody,” he said. “You could print [it 100 times] and you have a situation where the first person in is the one who wins.”
SafeTix provides ticket accountability and ensures that legitimate customers receive all the rights and privileges from their purchased tickets.
“[The program] ensures that it’s not the barcode or the image that is the entry token,” he said. “[What lets you enter is] the combination of our relationship with you, your account identity [and] an entitlement we have delivered to you.”
Karyo added that solutions like SafeTix and Verified Fan will be increasingly important for eCommerce platforms as fraudsters’ efforts become more creative. Digital marketplaces have become attractive to bad actors as in-person retail fraud becomes more challenging to commit in a world of EMV-equipped credit cards and point-of-sale (POS) terminals.
“Ticketing has always been an alluring industry to target because of the arbitrage value of the things we sell,” Karyo said.
This puts pressure on Ticketmaster and other eCommerce merchants to strike the right balance of smooth purchasing experiences for customers and strong security measures that address suspicious users. Karyo said the company achieves this equilibrium by building strong customer relationships and constantly learning to better distinguish good actors from bad ones.
“My hope for Ticketmaster is that we continue to invest in a consumer experience that increasingly offers our fans great reasons to come and interact with us, be rewarded everywhere from the beginning [purchasing] experience to the point they enter the venue, [be] rewarded for sharing that experience through our platform and coming back and [then be] rewarded for that repeat behavior with a higher level of trust and access,” he said.
Building stronger trust among fans is essential for event-based eCommerce platforms to thrive and assure customers that their tickets will be valid when their favorite artists come to town.