World-class athletes aren't the only ones going for the gold this summer at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. So are online ticket scammers.
International media reports estimate sports fans have lost $50 million through unauthorized Web sites like www.beijingticketing.com. Olympic organizers might have saved some of these unsuspecting consumers' money if their lawyers had been better prepared last month when asking a San Francisco judge for a restraining order against the company that runs Beijingticketing.com and six other sites.
Nobody showed up to defend the alleged scam operation, known as Xclusive Hospitality and Leisure, once the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee filed papers in District Court on July 22. But even with no-one representing the defendants, Judge Jeffrey White still refused to grant a restraining order because the Olympic committee lawyers had failed to spell out why the case belonged in his San Francisco court instead of another jurisdiction. The lawyers later corrected the mistake, arguing that the scammers have "systematic and ongoing business contacts with companies located in California" and an Internet service provider in San Francisco, among other things — something they probably knew when they first filed the complaint. But by the time White granted a restraining order, the scam sites had two extra weeks to take people's money.
Texas lawyer Jim Moriarty, who's seeking to represent victims, criticized Olympic organizers in the press for waiting too long before filing a lawsuit. (Moriarty has also told reporters he lost $12,000 in the ticket scam.) But organizers could have done much more to prevent fraud than suing the suspicious Web sites. They could have disclosed ticket security features or verified their authenticity, for example. Without these measures, people who purchased secondhand tickets on, say, eBay can hardly know whether they have genuine ones until they arrive in Beijing.
Diana Torres, one of the Olympic committee lawyers, didn't return a message seeking comment. One USOC staffer in Colorado Springs started answering questions about the ticket scams, insisting he had no idea how much money consumers have lost but that he was pretty sure they wouldn't recover a dime. Then he said he wasn't authorized to speak on behalf of the USOC — all authorized representatives were in Beijing — and hung up.