Bee Investigator

Bee Investigator: Festival scam like that in Modesto could leave you crabby

As I predicted in my column last month about a scam involving ticket sales to fake events throughout California, the person or people behind it aren’t letting up.

A gala at an amusement park, a masquerade ball at a science center, a crab feed on an island and a beer festival in a tiny park – none of them came to fruition.

Now there are tickets being sold to 21 questionable crab festival events throughout the United States, in a fashion reminiscent of the other four events:

▪  Known and trusted companies such as Groupon, and local radio stations and newspapers, are used to advertise so the events appears authentic.

▪  Much of the same verbiage is used to described ticket options, but the name for the event changes depending on where it is being promoted: Hot Garlic Crab Feed, The Super Crab Festival and The Dungeness Crab Association.

▪  The same ridiculously low prices are advertised, despite an indefinite delay to the Dungeness crab fishing season along much of the Pacific Coast that has caused a shortage of crab and the cancellation of legitimate crab feeds.

The festival swindle came to my attention in September, when the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival was advertised in The Modesto Bee.

With help from my colleague Marijke Rowland and readers who called in with tips, we exposed three other fake events in the Bay Area that are very likely connected to the one advertised in Modesto. I wrote about two of them before the event dates had passed, and I was happy to hear from one reader who said my articles saved her and her friends “a lot of headache” over the Hot Garlic Crab Festival that was supposed to take place on Treasure Island in the Bay Area.

The crab scam went south to Los Angeles last month. Groups of people showed up to two downtown L.A. locations promoted to hold a “Super Crab Festival,” only to find locked doors and other confused ticketholders, according to reviews on Yelp. Posted on the door of one location was a note on a white sheet of paper, poorly scrawled in black Sharpie: “Crab Fest was Cancelled.”

It included a number to call for information, but no one answered it, according to the angry Yelp reviews.

The event’s website, www.thesupercrab.com, also suddenly lacked many of the details it originally had and appeared to be under construction, according to one review.

But lo and behold, a new website popped up. There were, after all, possible victims throughout the country that could still be duped. The new site had the same information promoting crab festivals throughout the country, just a different domain name.

The new site, www.dungenesscrabassociation.com, uses the same Internet protocol address as supercrab.com, indicating they were generated from the same source. The template on both homepages is the same – same photos and graphics – and the verbiage on the frequently asked questions section is nearly identical.

And here’s the kicker – one of the photos that was used is a copyrighted Modesto Bee photo that was, of course, used without permission. It was shot at an SOS Club crab feed in January.

Of course, the past fake event dates are no longer included on the site, and the new domain name offers a fresh start after The Super Crab name was trashed on Yelp.

Still, there are 21 events being promoted throughout the Uniteds States, including two in California next month:

▪  Jan. 9 at the Coloma Community Center in Sacramento.

▪  Jan. 30 at the Lake Merritt Sailboat House in Oakland.

Both venues are operated by the cities’ parks and recreation departments.

I called Sacramento and was told the event was canceled by parks and rec after staff received multiple phone calls from people concerned the event is a fake.

Oakland parks and rec has been getting the same kind of phone calls, but Annette Johnson, a customer service representative for the department, said the organizers actually have put down a substantial amount of money and stand to lose several hundred dollars if they don’t follow through.

This leads me to believe the scam is quite profitable.

And it’s low-risk: As I previously reported, the loss to a single victim must be more than $950, the threshold that distinguishes a felony from a misdemeanor, for local law enforcement to investigate. The loss has to make it to six figures for the feds to even raise an eyebrow.

It’s very unlikely one ticket buyer will make it there, and the credit card companies that are taking the biggest loss, by reversing charges on multiple cardholders, likely view this as a drop in the credit card fraud bucket.

I reached out to Groupon and PayPal – one of the companies that processes the ticket sales – to inquire if they lose anything in this deal and if they have a system in place to identify and stop this type of fraud. I didn’t hear back from either.

I also never heard back from whomever is behind the Dungeness Crab Association, which I emailed because (red flag) there is no phone number on the website. I asked if they plan to refund people who bought tickets to the Sacramento event and told them to stop using our photo.

While it’s disappointing these people continue to do this with no ramifications, I’m encouraged that people are helping to get the word out by sharing the stories we’ve published and taking to Yelp and Facebook to prevent others from falling victim to the scam. The fact that multiple people called the Sacramento and Oakland venues, to either verify the event is happening or warn the staff it might be a scam, is a sign that it’s working.

Hopefully, the word will spread far enough to squash the scam entirely.

Have a question for the Bee Investigator? Call 209-578-2366 or email etracy@modbee.com.

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