The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced yesterday it was taking action to shut down the fraudsters, but the move came too late to help the victims find replacement seats at the Games.
Among those left out of pocket were the families of Olympic athletes in both Australia and New Zealand, with people in the US, Japan, Norway, China and Britain also reportedly conned by the sophisticated sting.
“We cannot accept people paying money for tickets and not getting them,” said Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC executive board member.
Heiberg said the issue was raised last week with both the IOC and the US Olympic Committee filing a lawsuit on Friday in a district court in California, accusing at least six websites of selling illegitimate or non-existent tickets.
However, a US lawyer who said he had lost $12,000 (€7,700) in the fraud, accused the IOC of complacency.
“They have known about these sites for months and months and did nothing,” said Jim Moriarty, partner of a Houston-based law firm which is looking to represent fellow victims in any subsequent legal actions.
“They have dashed the hopes and dreams of thousands of people who have been planning for years to go to the Games and have already paid thousands of dollars for airfares and what they thought were legitimate tickets,” he said.
Despite last week’s IOC suit, one of the sites accused of fraud — www.beijingticketing.com — was still operating yesterday, offering seats for events including Friday’s opening ceremony, with prices at €1,378.
The site, which carries the official Beijing Games logo, provides a London phone number, which rang dead yesterday, and a US address in Phoenix, Arizona.
Australia’s Olympic Committee (AOC) offered commiserations but no solutions to the scores of Australians left out of pocket.
“Our sympathy goes to them but we aren’t in a position to step in, compensate or find other tickets,” AOC chief John Coates said.
“We warned folk to only deal with authorised ticket suppliers.
“The worst thing is that some people don’t even know yet that they bought tickets that won’t arrive. Some were told they could pick up the tickets at an office in Beijing, and they won’t be there. My guess is they sold thousands of tickets that don’t exist.”
Tickets for events in Beijing completely sold out last week, Games organisers said, leaving only seats for competitions in co-host cities still available.
Many tickets are still being offered on e-Bay auction website, but Coates urged caution. “There may be tickets on eBay that are delivered, but I think it is a great risk,” he said.