Why Big Games Are the Perfect Storm for Fraud


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Whether it’s college football in January, the Super Bowl in February, the eponymous March Madness or the Masters Tournament in April, the first few months of the year are a time of pride and joy for many sports fans.

Unfortunately, it’s also a favorite season for fraudsters.

Forter data shows that online ticket sales for major sporting events, such as “The Big Dance” and the NBA All-Star Weekend, are over four times more likely to be targeted by fraudsters than other regular-season events. While this may not come as a complete surprise, the trend is a concerning one for ticketing vendors and fans alike.

Fraudsters are sports fans, too

If we take a closer look at the characteristics of ticket sales for March Madness and other major sporting events, we see how big games meet all of a fraudster’s target criteria.

High value: For fraudsters, it’s all about the ROI. They want maximum payoff for minimal effort. What’s attractive about coveted events like the Super Bowl and the Women’s Final Four last month is that tickets naturally come with a high price tag. The average ticket price for this year’s Super Bowl was $8,000 . Moreover, fans often purchase seats in groups to sit with friends, making multi-ticket transactions that much less suspicious.

Sidestepping official sellers: The average fan isn’t looking for the “Official NCAA Experience,” which is the pricey hospitality upgrade that includes private lounge access, food and drink. But premium packages may be the only available option if purchasing through the NCAA or an individual team. This leads fans to look elsewhere and “shop around” for tickets, giving fraudsters a thriving market to tap into.

Limited supply: Speaking of market, fraudsters need to be sure there is one with many eager buyers who are interested in their stolen goods. That’s not a problem with popular sporting events where demand is typically high, and supply is limited.

Need for speed: This happens at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and the Final Four, which was in Dallas. Fans often hold off from buying tickets to a game until they know their team is in it. This can lead to a last-minute rush on tickets, making it easier for fraudsters to hide.

Difficult to manually review: With 67 games over three weeks, March Madness generates floods of transactions, and fraud-fighting teams may struggle to keep up. Meanwhile, fans want to know immediately that they received the tickets, which leaves no time for deep investigation. Fraudsters know this and want to capitalize on it.

Different methods to fraudsters’ madness

The timing of fraud attacks during big sporting events is revealing both in itself and in what it says about fraud attacks on a broader level.

One might assume that fraudsters focus their efforts on later rounds in the tournament when the stakes are higher. To the contrary, most significant spikes are usually seen during the first round. That may initially seem counterintuitive, but in the first round, the most teams are playing. It provides not only the maximum number of possible attack targets, but also the largest market of potential buyers.

But that’s looking at the volume of attacks. When we consider the value, the picture is quite different. Tickets for the Final Four generally account for only about 10% of March Madness fraud attacks, yet they represent 25% of the total value of all fraud attempts during the tournament.

This raises an interesting question for fraud-fighting teams: Which round of the tournament do fraudsters target most? In this case, there are two answers, and both are correct.

Account takeovers becoming popular play

Fraud during sporting events has traditionally come in the form of standard credit card fraud. However, recent Forter data shows that account takeover (ATO) attempts against ticketing sites are on the rise, increasing by 36% compared to three years ago.

Across the fraud landscape, the pendulum is swinging back to a greater focus on ATO. Fraud teams have become so effective at stopping fraud at checkout that the bad guys are looking elsewhere for vulnerabilities – and they’re finding them in accounts.

The threat landscape is constantly changing, where fraudsters are getting more creative about how to increase their reach and angles of attack. We’ve seen greater scale and sophistication from highly organized rings, a rise in amateur fraudsters, resellers evolving and more.

To beat fraudsters at their game, ticketing vendors need to run a full-court press in protecting customer accounts and preventing fraud at checkout. It’s a win-win for their business and the fans.


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