Conmen caught scalping RWC tickets

A GANG of international conmen posed as Rugby World Cup sponsors to steal tickets to the sold-out final and scalp them to desperate fans for thousands of dollars.

The professional charlatans lurked in the lobby of Auckland hotels to eavesdrop on staff conversations and glean the names of tournament sponsors coming to pick up complimentary tickets from the reception desk.

The imposters then pretended to be the sponsors, convinced hotel staff that ID proof was unnecessary and walked away with tickets worth NZD1275 ($AU979) each.

The RWC scalping scam - the second busted by police during the tournament - was discovered only when the intended recipients turned up at the hotel to collect their tickets.

A 39-year-old Londoner was arrested outside the Cloud on Queens Wharf on the eve of the All Blacks-France final, while he was scalping the Category-A seats worth NZD1275 ($AU979) each.

James Flanagan, travelling on an Irish passport, was found with eight tickets.

He appeared in Auckland District Court on Tuesday charged with receiving stolen goods.

Flanagan, who was staying at a Fort St backpackers, was convicted and discharged and quickly left New Zealand.

A spokeswoman for Auckland police said 23 of the 40 tickets stolen were recovered. Some of the innocent ticket-buyers were located, but it is not known if they lost all their money or if any even got into Eden Park.

The spokeswoman was reluctant to release details of the scam, as police did not want to encourage copycat crimes in the future. "I can say we don't believe [Flanagan] was acting alone."

It is believed it was this scam that prompted police to warn rugby fans seeking last-minute tickets to the Rugby World Cup final and third-place playoff to be wary of scalpers.

On Friday, Superintendent Grant O'Fee said police were aware of the potential for scalpers on the street to "make a quick buck out of vulnerable people by selling fake or fraudulently obtained tickets".

"People may also think just because they are being offered tickets for below face value that they are genuine. However, the risk remains the same."

Mr O'Fee said buying from informal sources such as street vendors carried the risk of fans being turned away at the Eden Park gate because the tickets were fake or had been cancelled after being lost or stolen.

The scam for which Flanagan was arrested is allegedly the second linked to cup tickets, after criminal charges were laid against two Auckland taxi drivers accused of a NZD845,000 ($AU649,000) rort.

Demissie Tefera Asgedom, 25, and Nebiyou Tefera Demissie, 37, were arrested on the day of the opening ceremony at Eden Park on September 9 and charged with being part of an organised criminal enterprise.

Police later laid a new charge against the Ethiopian pair in the Auckland District Court of dishonestly obtaining 1734 Rugby World Cup tickets valued at NZD845,769 ($AU649,000).

The number of tickets listed in the court documents is double the total originally found by police.

When the drivers were first arrested, Detective Superintendent Andy Lovelock said police had raided several houses and found 933 tickets - valued at NZD500,000 ($AU383,770)- for a range of games, as well as cash.

Earlier that week, six people were intercepted at the border or en route to New Zealand and turned away by Customs and Immigration.

The Herald understands that the 1734 tickets were purchased with credit card details allegedly stolen in the United States.



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