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Be On The Lookout For Super Bowl Scams

By Jim Donovan: With Super Bowl XLVIII fast approaching, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is reminded sports fans to beware of opportunistic scams that have been known to occur during major sports events.

"Whether you'll be watching the game at MetLife Stadium, at a sports bar or at home, everyone deserves to have a safe time enjoying the Super Bowl," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. "Consumers should be alert to scams involving ticket sales, apartment or house rentals, travel packages, and counterfeit merchandise. Anyone who suspects fraud should immediately file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs."

Consumers should beware of the following types of scams:

Ticket Scams

Consumers should thoroughly check the reputation of any ticket vendor, and any websites that broker ticket sales, before making a purchase. Look for online consumer reviews – and remember that reviews on the vender's own site may not be reliable.

Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5946 (toll-free within New Jersey) or 877-746-7850 to learn whether the seller has been the subject of consumer complaints.

Consider using the various consumer protection services that may be offered on the ticket seller's website, such as escrow, insurance, and the verification and rating of sellers.

Some ticket broker websites offer to refund or replace your tickets if they turn out to be counterfeit or are otherwise rejected by the venue. Learn whether such a guarantee is being offered.

Learn about the tickets before you buy. Ask for the ticket's original face value. Ask for the section, row, and seat number; this will help determine whether the ticket actually exists and whether it has an obstructed view. Ask for a photo of the ticket, if one is available.

Make sure you fully understand all terms of the sale before you buy. What are the seller's policies for returns, refunds, or cancellations? Will you receive a refund if the ticket is not delivered on time?

Be sure to pay by credit card, rather than by checks, money orders, or wire transfers, or cash. Using a credit card will make it easier to dispute failed purchases.

Save all your transaction information, including print-outs of the website pages and emails.

Apartment or Home Rental Scams

Many people from out of town are seeking short-term apartment or house rentals, rather than hotels. Many people who live near the game are offering to rent out their homes.

Whether you are a prospective tenant or a prospective landlord, you should protect yourself against being scammed.

Con artists have been known to pose as property owners, and place online rental ads that turn out to be fraudulent. The ads may seem genuine, and may even include home or apartment photos that are copied-and-pasted from legitimate real estate listings. To make the scam even more difficult to detect, the scammer may use the address of a property that is actually being listed online by its real owner.

The fraudulent "landlord" will ask the prospective tenant to wire money for the security deposit. But when the renter finally arrives, he or she may find that the property is not available – or doesn't exist at all.

Con artists have also been known to respond to online real estate listings, in order to scam the owners. One common trick is to send a check or money order for more than the required amount, and ask the landlord to send back a check for the excess money. Another trick is to write a check or money order for the correct amount, and then back out of the rental agreement and ask for their money back.

The check or money order will turn out to be a fake – but a good enough fake to temporarily fool the bank when you attempt to deposit it. Your online bank statement may at first make it appear that the money actually has been deposited and is available in your account. Only after you send money to the scammer will you learn that the original check or money order was a fraud.

Whether you are a prospective short-term tenant or landlord, also remember that putting your personal information on a fraudulent real estate contract can expose you to identity theft.

Prospective tenants and landlords should consider working with a reputable real estate agent. They will have access to legitimate real estate listings and legitimate leads on renters. Check online reviews of the agent, and ask questions before agreeing to work with them.

Remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is – whether it's a landlord asking for extremely low rent, or a prospective tenant offering to pay more than you're asking for.

If you are looking at an online real estate ad, conduct your own separate online search of the owner's or agent's name and phone number. If the owner won't give straight answers to specific questions, or rushes you to sign the contract, this may be the sign of a scam. If possible, arrange for someone in the area to physically inspect the property and meet the owner before you make a deposit.

If you choose to accept a cashier's check or money order, do not withdraw any of the money until a representative at your bank can assure you that the check has cleared and the money is truly available. You also should make sure you have a security deposit to cover against potential damage.

Prospective landlords also should make sure they are allowed to rent out part of their home, or sub-let their apartment, and that their insurance policy will cover potential damage caused by a renter. Check with your municipal code officials, property owner, or other authorities to avoid getting yourself in trouble.

Travel Scams

In the run-up to previous Super Bowls and major events such as the World Cup, many con artists tricked unwary fans with travel scams.

According to reports, con artists sent out emails in advance of past Super Bowls, claiming the recipient won a contest for $100,000 and two free tickets. The recipient was asked to send in $3,000 to cover the taxes on the "prize." The emails included an NFL logo that was copied from the NFL's official website. Needless to say, no prize existed.

Advising a consumer that he or she won a prize, and then requiring the consumer to take any action in order to claim the prize, is prohibited under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act.

Consumers also should be aware of "prizes" in the mail that say you've won a trip to the Super Bowl complete with a hotel room. Scams like this may require you to pay for the airline tickets yourself through a "contest office" that will charge more than the plane tickets otherwise would cost. Victims who fall for this scam may find that there is a sub-par hotel waiting for them – but may be surprised to learn that game tickets are not included.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has specific rules regarding travel packages that include event tickets. Among other requirements, any operator who markets a travel package with game tickets must actually have the tickets on hand or under contract. If a tour was described as including a ticket, and the consumer did not receive one, the consumer is entitled to a full refund of the entire package price – not just the price of the ticket.

Consumers can protect themselves by working with a reputable travel agent. Never assume that an ad or mail solicitation that promises a travel deal is from a legitimate agent.

Consumers should be very careful before working with a travel agent. Look for online consumer reviews – and remember that reviews on the agent's own website may not be reliable. Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5946 (toll-free within New Jersey) or 877-746-7850 to learn whether the agent has been the subject of consumer complaints.

Be sure to pay by credit card, rather than by checks, money orders, or wire transfers, or cash. Using a credit card will make it easier to dispute failed purchases.

Get all terms and conditions of your package in writing, including the cancellation policy in case you can't make the trip, and the refund policy in case any components of the package are not delivered as promised.

Make sure you are fully aware of what the travel package offers and does not offer. Don't assume that every package will include airfare, hotel accommodations, and tickets to the game.

Make sure you know the full details of the accommodations that are offered: (i.e., what specific hotel will you be staying at, and what specific type of room?) If the package includes airfare, how many stops will there be and what is the seating class? Make sure the flight will get you there in time to see the game.

When calculating how much the trip will cost, don't forget the logistics of how you will get to and from the game – including the cost of transit fees and/or parking fees.

Counterfeit Merchandise

The Better Business Bureau has warned Super Bowl fans about counterfeit team jerseys and other memorabilia. Remember that if you buy an item from someone who has stolen the use of your favorite team's logo or name, you're not really supporting the team. Counterfeit goods often are cheaply made and of inferior quality, and won't last as long as genuine items licensed by the teams and the NFL.

Shopping for counterfeit goods online includes the much greater risk of identity theft. The sellers may be much more interested in obtaining your personal information and credit card number, than in sending you a knockoff jersey.

The best way to know you're buying official sports gear is to buy directly from the team or league websites, reputable stores, or official vendors at the stadium.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any
other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs
by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-

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