Marijke Rowland

Buyer beware: Scam events like Modesto Beer and Bites abound

The address given for the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival is a small patch of grass across the street from Graceada Park in Modesto.
The address given for the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival is a small patch of grass across the street from Graceada Park in Modesto.

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, something like the fake Modesto Beer and Bites Festival comes along.

It’s not like scams are anything new. And if you think they are, might I interest you in this slightly used bridge for sale in Brooklyn? But the audacity of these hucksters, and complexity of their frauds, has come a long way since letters used to arrive in the actual mail from a so-called prince living on the Ivory Coast promising you riches if only you’ll share your bank account number with him.

The fraudulent festival was slated for downtown Modesto last weekend, and heavily promoted in both print and online advertising, including The Modesto Bee. There was a fully functioning website, tickets offered through well-known online vendors, a Groupon touting half-price deals, an updated Facebook page and more.

The online economy, which often requires no upfront payments for promotions and instead takes a cut of profits, has helped to perpetuate scammers like this. With just a little tech savvy, a cheap domain name can be bought and produced. Free Eventbrite and Groupons can be created. A Google Voice routed phone number can be set up. And, voila, you are in the fake festival business.

After uncovering that the Beer and Bites Festival was a fraud and had not pulled any of the required permits for such a large-scale event, Bee reporter Erin Tracy and I got curious to see how far down the rabbit hole these scammers went. If they could create a fake event here, what was preventing them from creating fake events elsewhere? So with a little digging, we were able to uncover links from the Modesto event to two other questionable upcoming events in the Bay Area: the Hot Garlic Crab Fest slated for Nov. 14 in San Francisco and the Naughty Garden Masquerade Ball slated for Oct. 31 in Oakland.

Tickets were, of course, already being sold for both events online. Both events had fairly slick-looking websites and Facebook pages. But calls to permitting agencies in San Francisco and the supposed venue in Oakland revealed things were less than kosher for both. And, like the Beer and Bites, the hook seemed to be a very good time at a very reasonable price with absolutely no tickets being sold at the gate.

Last weekend, I went over to check out the “festival grounds” for the nonexistent Modesto Beer and Bites Festival. While I should have been walking though throngs of 2,000 attendees and seeing more than 250 breweries offering samplings, what greeted me was a small, vacant patch of grass at the intersection of 14th and L streets across from Graceada Park. I stayed for a while to see if any duped ticket buyers showed up (thankfully, news had spread and none arrived while I was there). My only run-ins were with two TV news crews who came to shoot video of the emptiness.

The Modesto Police Department has opened an investigation into the event. Anyone who bought a ticket should file a report because the more complaints they get, the more they can go after the scammers and possibly stop them from popping up elsewhere with yet another Super! Big! Fun! fake event for which they’d be more than happy to take your money.

So if there is a moral to be taken from all this, it is the old yet timeless refrain: Buyer beware. When looking for something fun to do, always check out the source. Is this an established event promoter with a history in the area? Can you find credible information about the event in the past? (Beer and Bites claimed in its promotion that its 2014 festival was “a tremendous success!”) In the end, the bottom line tends to be that if it sounds too good to be true – as in all-you-can-eat lobster tails, crab legs and oysters on the half-shell – it probably is.