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Scammers target UK music festivals forced online by coronavirus

Festivals across the UK have been hit by internet scammers this season, who are taking advantage of the fact most have been forced to go online-only because of coronavirus restrictions.

Facebook phishing scams with fake pages and events are charging individuals to view live streams – even though they are often free to view on official festival pages.

Scammers have also been reported to create fake events and pages weeks before an official event takes place. Their aim is to redirect consumers to websites that illegally charge them for what should be a free service. Many fraudulent accounts are supplementing their attacks by commenting on the fake websites or putting links to the Facebook pages on official festival feeds.

Kevin Tate, the editor of Festival & Events UK, has compiled a list of fake events and pages over the festival season. In one instance he uncovered approximately 39 fake links to the Bristol event Love Saves the Day and more than 41 links to Reading and Leeds festival, which featured a string of celebrated sets – watched by boisterous crowds – from previous years.

He said: “I sell tickets on my network with my own community. And I thought it would be good to share the streams from some festivals, such as Download festival on to my page, to get everyone involved during this pandemic.

“But I soon noticed spam coming across these official pages. That’s when I started to investigate it because I was wondering why would there be these fake links?” he said.

Tate says many of the fake pages were set up mere weeks, or even a few days, before the event started, and often registered to countries such as Bangladesh. He knows of individuals who have had varying amounts of money taken from their accounts for free services, ranging from GBP2.95 to GBP7.50.

“I do know some festivals have had live streams over the weekends, and I do know people are clicking on the links and getting charged different amounts,” he said. “One person will get charged a couple of pence, and the other will get charged pounds.

“This may seem a small amount, but if you think about it, if the scammers get 100 people to click on their link, and people are charged different amounts, then it’s all going to add up.”

Some companies, such as Eventcube, provide secure virtual platforms for hosting performances and self-service event ticketing systems. Kieran Alington, Eventcube’s director, said: “Our software checks the person has a valid ticket and that their ticket is not open in multiple places, and prevents one person buying a ticket and sending it to 10 of their friends by having this unique token in the URL.”

Like Tate, Alington agrees social media has made fraud easier to commit. “I think the reality is that it’s quite difficult to police something like Facebook where you’ve got such an open network for events,” he said. “I feel that is why a lot of people are moving towards a much more kind of curated place to direct their audience to register, rather than doing it on such a big open platform like Facebook, which I do think inherently has issues.”

A spokeswoman from the UK music promoter Festival Republic said: “Facebook tells us they have been working to eliminate fake events on their platform, but some have continued to slip through. Both of our virtual events, Download TV and Wireless Connect, have been absolutely free and we’ve made that clear to our fans.

“We do remind fans to always check to make sure the accounts and events they’re interacting with online are verified Festival Republic pages or our official, affiliate brand partners. We encourage them to protect themselves online and be wary of engaging with any spam or fraudulent pages.”

A Facebook spokesperson said: “There is no place for fraudulent or inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and we will remove anything that violates our policies. We continue to invest in people and technology to enforce our policies, and we urge people to report any suspicious posts to us.”

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