• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Title

Deception and Fraud on the Internet

The sounds of silence.

August 30, 2017
 
 

A few years ago, I wrote about fraud on Craigslist. What I could not accomplish in many attempts – to get Craigslist to take down a fraudulent advertising for a house I rent – a post about that problem almost instantly cleared the matter up. Sunlight in the form of the press is now required to address two new matters. The first concerns the sale of performance tickets by a vendor in the Northeast, Vivid Seats. The second is fake puppy sales sites.
 
Vivid Seats popped up as a vendor of tickets for two performances I sought: James Taylor and Sting. The latter I bought for Tanglewood, asked and received two tickets. I paid way, way too much using this vendor, but that’s on me; I should have done more research. The tickets I bought for James Taylor were also grossly overpriced, but there was one fundamental difference. Vivid Seats used a tricky functionality of the transaction site to sell an extra ticket.

Just as I did with Sting, I used their site to find the performance, in this case Fenway Park, and then entered the quantity I wanted, two tickets. When I hit the complete transaction button, suddenly a very surprising sum showed up – a total that reflected the purchase of three.  I immediately went to their service and chat and round and round we went until staff, or a machine, who knows who or what is on the other side, announced that in the section I bought it was “policy” to sell a minimum of three seats. But where was my notice of that policy I asked? They changed the quantity from two to three without notice, and therefore without my consent. Person or machine was silent.

I created enough of a stir in their customer service chat that the next morning, at my invitation, a representative from Vivid Seats called me. Where was the notice? Had they ever heard of informed consent?  Not only were those notions too academic, it went against their deceptive business practice.  She expressed (fake) sympathy for the situation and offered to take $100 off my next purchase. The offer was tempting; I was also in the market for the Red Sox. But I stuck to my guns and recognized the ruse: she wanted to keep me buying tickets. I simply wanted to have Vivid Seats reverse the charges on that one ticket. No dice.

Next step, I brought a consumer fraud action through the State of Massachusetts against Vivid Seats. That was three months ago. Vivid Seats did not respond to it. The Bureau sent me information for filing in Small Claims Court. I’ll do it, but I thought I would throw in a dose of sunlight.

Now to fake puppy sale sites. Apart from hopeful parents of human adoptions, who is more of a potential sucker for fraud than someone looking for a puppy? For almost a year now, I have craved a dog. I never had one growing up, only turtles and fish. Now, two boys out of the house and our family cat having gone to her reward, I scan every dog that passes, ask my friends for suggestions, and learn about this breed and that. Last Friday, when my neighbor and I waved hello and she came by to chat, I immediately went to “what kind of dog is that?”  [Fill in the blank]!  That’s it, I thought, I’ll get that.

 Once back in the house, I immediately turned to the internet. A site popped up and the cutest pictures you ever did see stole my heart. Go to contacts. Within five minutes, someone writes back. Oh yes, Charlies was 10 weeks, house trained, with all shots, available, in fact on sale, and could be sent from Texas to my house for half of what this breed usually costs. 

Within minutes, I prepared to change my life!  I would get the puppy and devote myself to his training! Maybe I could get a therapist to write me a “therapy dog” script and bring Charlie to work?  Would I need a new car, something more dog friendly?  Yes, I could do that too!  I texted my son who is not emancipated yet (read: he would be in the house with the doggie), and who was on his way back to college. I sent him the pics. Not his choice for a dog – he wants a lab, he nonetheless thought Charlie would be a very good boy. Okay, back to the email thread with my response, YES, YES, YES, what do I do next?

A money order or telegram sent to your address?  Wait a minute … Suddenly I began to look more closely.  No proper contact information. No physical address. Photoshopped photographs. Was Charlie even still a puppy? Alive? Anywhere on this earth?  I looked at Joey and Suzie and Ralph – all too cute with that photoshop look. And the whole thing about the shots and house broken and the discount.  A deal too good to be true, and of course it was not.  Just for the experience, I wrote back saying I had concerns. Was there someone with whom I could speak?  Where were they exactly in Texas? Why don’t they use credit cards.  Silence.
 
Distinctions can be made between these cases. With an extra seat on the field about which I will soon file a claim, we saw James Taylor – he, with Bonnie Raitt – were, as always, great.  Money order or not, I would never see Charlie.  But silence connects these two moments. That final second when after all the exciting connection of 10,000 wires and code and currents and all that human emotion – desire, anticipation, nostalgia, the urge to fill in the gap from one’s childhood past -- and then the internet goes quiet.
 

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