Controversial online ticket reseller Viagogo has been found guilty of misleading Australian consumers by creating a “false sense of urgency” and giving the appearance it was an “official” site.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took action against the Switzerland-based company in 2017 after hundreds of complaints from ripped-off consumers about heavy mark-ups, hidden fees, cancelled events and failure to provide refunds.
That came after NSW Fair Trading warned consumers to avoid doing business with Viagogo, saying it had reports of up to 600 consumers being ripped off at a cost of almost $130,000.
The ACCC says it has received more than 3400 contacts about Viagogo since January 2017.
The Federal Court on Thursday agreed with the ACCC, finding Viagogo breached Australian Consumer Law by making false or misleading representations and engaging in conduct liable to mislead the public.
The court found Viagogo misled consumers by claiming tickets to certain events were scarce when the scarcity only referred to the tickets available on its resale platform and didn’t include tickets available elsewhere.
It also found that using the word “official” in its online ads misled consumers into thinking they were purchasing tickets from an official site.
“Viagogo’s claims misled consumers into buying tickets by including claims like ‘less than 1 per cent tickets remaining’ to create a false sense of urgency,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said in a statement.
“We urge consumers to only buy tickets from authorised sellers, or they risk their tickets being dishonoured at the gates or doors.”
The court also found that from May until June 2017, Viagogo’s website lured consumers with a headline price while failing to sufficiently disclose additional fees — including a 27.6 per cent booking fee — or specify a single price for tickets.
“Viagogo was charging extraordinarily high booking fees and many consumers were caught out,” Mr Sims said. “Today’s Federal Court decision is a reminder to businesses that consumers must be clearly told that there are additional fees associated with a displayed price.”
Viagogo spokesman Cris Miller said the company was “disappointed by the ruling”.
“It does not reflect our current ticketing platform and the many changes we have made,” he said. “We strongly believe our website is compliant and we will continue to work closely and constructively with the ACCC.”
Mr Miller said Viagogo’s first priority “continues to be to provide people with a safe and secure platform to buy or sell sport, music and entertainment tickets, many of which would otherwise not have been available to them due to the limited number that event organisers release to the box office”.
“Without services like Viagogo, people would be forced to return to buying and selling tickets outside venues, or to use informal social media platforms where no customer protection exists. We don’t believe anyone should have to take that risk,” he said.
“We are disappointed that the chair of the Commission does not support the greater competition that Viagogo and other ticket resellers bring to the market which provides greater choice for Australian consumers.”
Penalties will be determined at a later date. The maximum penalty is $1.1 million per contravention.