Having just transferred from Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow, Russia, LSA junior Veronika Volevich was looking forward to attending her first football game in The Big House. She made a post in the “Buying and Selling Tickets UMich” Facebook group on Sept. 4 requesting that anyone selling tickets to the football games on Sept. 11 or Sept. 18 comment or contact her privately.
Within a few minutes, Volevich said she got a message from Facebook user “Elena Beretta.” Beretta told Volevich she had tickets for both games in Section 31, Row 10 and asked Volevich to make an offer. Volevich suggested $40 per ticket and said Beretta immediately accepted.
But an hour after Volevich electronically paid Beretta for the tickets, Volevich said she still had not received them. When Beretta stopped responding to her private messages, Volevich realized it had been a scam.
“Then I decided to make a post about (Beretta) in the (Buying and Selling) group,” Volevich said. “I received three or four messages from other people saying … she had used the same exact strategy on them.”
Associate Athletic Director Kurt Svoboda confirmed in an email to The Michigan Daily that this is the first year that student football tickets have been solely distributed online. Ice hockey and basketball student tickets have been virtual since 2019.
“We do not have plans to return to physical tickets in the future but we will continue to follow best practices within the industry to provide security within the ticketing landscape,” Svoboda wrote. “Mobile ticketing is proven to be far more safe and effective than paper tickets as it relates to authenticity.”
Volevich is not the only student who has recently been scammed while trying to buy student tickets through social media.
After talking to several other students with similar experiences to Volevich, The Michigan Daily found three major warning signs to look out for — and ways to mitigate the risks — when trying to buy student tickets online.
“I know I’ll never get my money back,” Volevich said. “I just want to warn other people so this doesn’t happen to them.”
Red Flag 1: Pressuring the buyer to pay the full cost before sending the ticket
LSA sophomore Audrey Beach was scammed on Aug. 21 while trying to purchase an entire season of student tickets through the Buying and Selling Facebook group. Beach said a scammer by the name of “Reilly Kat” liked Beach’s post in the group, so Beach reached out to her to purchase the tickets. Once they agreed on a price, Beach said Kat told her to set up a Zelle account and transfer the money immediately if she wanted the tickets.
“She was definitely pressuring me into paying right away, like as soon as possible, and to get a different payment app that was better for her,” Beach said.
Beach said she was out shopping with her family at the time and told Kat she wanted to wait until she got home to set up a Zelle account on her laptop. Kat insinuated she would sell the tickets to someone else if Beach took too long, suggesting she use her phone to transfer the payment if she was serious about buying.
Since there were no live spectators at football games last fall, this was Beach’s first time purchasing tickets to a U-M football game. She said if she had known more about how tickets were transferred, the value of season tickets or the tricks scammers traditionally used, she would have been more careful.
“If I had that experience last year, if I had ever been to a football game … I definitely would have had a better understanding of what I was trying to buy and how to do it safely,” Beach said.
To protect both buyers and sellers from losing the full value of the tickets, Beach and other scam victims suggested sending half of the cost before receiving the tickets and the other half after.
Red Flag 2: Asking that money be sent through new payment applications
All of the scam victims interviewed by The Daily said the PayPal-owned application Venmo — a middle ground between a payment transfer service and social media platform — is their preferred interface for virtual payments. Venmo appears frequently in lists of the applications college students use on a daily basis, and a third of Venmo users are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Volevich said Beretta refused to use Venmo when they were discussing how the payment would be sent.
“(Beretta) said she would prefer either Zelle or Apple Pay,” Volevich said. “I found that weird since everyone has Venmo.”
Volevich said she consented to using Apple Pay since she had used it previously to make contactless payments at local businesses. When a pop-up warning screen appeared indicating that this particular Apple Pay transfer might not be safe, Volevich said, she assumed Apple Pay flagged any non-commercial transfer and dismissed it.
“When I started the Apple Pay transaction, I was warned by Apple that this might be fraud,” Volevich said. “I assumed that since I’m transferring money to another person, Apple Pay might just suspect fraud, so I didn’t pay attention to it.”
Besides paying attention to explicit security messages from payment apps, Volevich and other scam victims recommended telling the seller they are not comfortable using certain payment methods they are less familiar with. They also suggested that if the buyer and seller can arrange to meet in person while the transaction takes place, it would increase transparency and reduce scam risks.
“I would ask the (seller) to meet in person,” Volevich said. “Since all (students) live in Ann Arbor mostly, it’s not that hard to meet in person.”
Red flag 3: Facebook account is not active and person’s student status is unclear
If they had paid better attention to key details on the scammer’s Facebook pages, all of the scam victims said they might not have been so quick to send money to strangers.
2019 University alum Zena Shunnar told The Daily when she was a student, she had never heard of scams involving tickets to U-M sporting events. But when she was scammed while trying to buy three tickets over Facebook from a “fellow alum” to the Sept. 11 game, Shunnar said she found out the hard way that things had changed.
Shunnar messaged “Simone Williams” who claimed she had tickets available. Williams’ profile mentioned she had recently moved to Paris and had studied at École Polytechnique de Milan in Milan, Italy. Shunnar said she thought this was odd, but gave Williams the benefit of the doubt, supposing Williams wanted to sell her tickets because of her current residence in Europe.
“I kind of made up the story in my head on why she could be selling these tickets and why it says she lives in Paris now,” Shunnar said.
LSA senior Julia Smoot said the individual who scammed her had very few Facebook friends and only had posted a couple of times — with each post receiving zero likes. Similar to Shunnar, Smoot said she had also purchased paper tickets several times before and had never had any issues.
Both recommended taking more time to identify inconsistencies on the Facebook profiles of prospective sellers or buyers. They also both suggested using MCommunity to verify their student or alumni status.
“I started looking up (student ticket sellers) in MCommunity and I found at least two other people who didn’t go here,” Smoot said. “This one guy just kept saying, ‘you’re safe with me, you’re safe with me.’ He did not go here.”
To try to make the verification process easier for students, LSA senior Mark Zubricki and Engineering senior Connor Turco launched SurfSeats at the beginning of the fall semester. With more than 500 registered users, SurfSeats is an online ticket marketplace that is only accessible to those who sign up with a University-affiliated email address.
Though Michigan Athletics is partnered with Stubbhub to provide a secure platform for non-student ticket sales, Turco said there was a need for a student-oriented marketplace.
“We noticed that there were a lot of people getting scammed in the group chats and we thought there was an opportunity to build a better ticket platform for students to sell their tickets,” Turco said.
SurfSeats facilitates payment through PayPal or Venmo, and all tickets are “insured.” If there are any issues with listers not transferring tickets, Truco said SurfSeats will replace the ticket or refund the buyer the full amount.
“(SurfSeats) has been pretty good so far, we haven’t had any scammers,” Truco said.
Whether students switch to new virtual marketplaces like SurfSeats or continue to buy and sell in Facebook groups, those who were scammed said they hope their “scam stories” will raise awareness about common scammer tactics. With mobile tickets here to stay, Beach said taking basic precautionary measures while shopping is a small price to pay to help ensure monetary security.
“I hope everyone stays safe if they’re trying to buy (tickets) off of a Facebook group,” Beach said.
Daily Staff Reporter Roni Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.