Was the WiseGuys Ticket-Buying Scheme Really a Scam?


Three proprietors of WiseGuys Tickets, a California ticketing company, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a slew of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, and computer fraud. A day earlier, the men had been brought up on charges that they used their tech savvy to sidestep security systems for online ticketing outlets and snap up mass quantities of premium tickets for concerts and sporting events, then resold them at a profit.

The 43-count federal indictment, unsealed in New Jersey on Monday, accuses the defendants employing a large network of computers and programmers to outsmart the security measures of online ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and Tickets.com, and engaging in computer fraud to mimc a nationwide network of ticket buyers.

Kenneth Lowson, Kristofer Kirsch, and Joel Stevenson worked for WiseGuys; a fourth employee named in the indictment, Faisal Nahdi, is expected to surrender, according to authorities.

WiseGuys' proprietors apparently enlisted programmers from Bulgaria to circumvent ticket sites' CAPTCHA systems, used by many sites to prevent consumer abuse, usually as an image of warped text that humans can read and interpret but that computers cannot.

The Boss and His Fans Cry Foul

The indictment cites Bruce Springsteen's nationwide tour, for which WiseGuys purchased 11,728 tickets, including 1,497 seats for four shows last July at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., last July. The indictment charges that for one show, WiseGuys, assisted by a stable of bots and phony e-mail addresses, snapped up every seat in 20 rows of the stadium's most desirable general-admission section.

Springsteen's concerts in his home state of New Jersey have encountered ticketing-related controversies in the past. Last year, when tickets to his shows appeared on Ticketmaster's resale site TicketNow, which allows consumers to sell tickets at a profit, the New Jersey Attorney General's office reported 2,000 complaints from frustrated fans. Ticketmaster ultimately let fans who felt shut out organize a lottery for tickets to future Springsteen shows.

WiseGuys's defense argues that circumventing the safeguarding of ticket sites isn't necessarily illegal. "Congress has not yet legislated that ticket brokering is illegal," Lowson's attorney, Mark Rush, told reporters. Lowson has compared his company's business model to paying someone to wait outside a ticketing office for a prime spot in line. That sounds fine, if not for the speed and scope that Wiseguys' bots snap up any venue's best tickets.