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Posted on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ticket scalping detail: Buyer beware when the peddling is illegal

By Rich Kinsey

My really obnoxious undercover Wolverine Hawaiian shirt still hangs in a closet at the new police station. When I was on the job — while sporting this rather loud shirt and carrying a red Solo cup — I frequently strolled around the Michigan Union and the Big House. My undercover mission was to rid The City of Trees of professional ticket scalpers.

Why might the police department be so cranky about these lovable louts who provide a public service to the ticketless masses? First, consider where these tickets might have come from.


Many books of season tickets get stolen. Those foolish enough to leave their dormitory doors or bedroom doors in large rental houses unlocked find out the hard way that thieves know where to look.

Football tickets are either hung on a mirror, left on top of a desk or chest of drawers or in one of the top drawers of the same items of furniture. Get a party going where strangers are wandering around and, next thing you know, those football tickets are long gone.

Leave the tickets in your dorm room, and it might not be a stranger, but the guy down the hall who thinks you ratted him out to the resident advisor about the keg in the shower, non-medicinal use of cannabis or loud stereo. Perhaps there might just be a common thief on your floor, but things including season tickets will come up missing if you leave your door unlocked.

If your tickets get stolen, make sure you report the incident to the police. The university athletic department can help you. Your stolen tickets will be canceled and new tickets issued.

That is too bad for the poor sap who buys your stolen ticket from a scalper, because they will not be getting into the game. The scanners at the gate will catch the fact that the ticket has been reported as stolen.

The yellow jacket at the gate will nod or signal the University of Michigan police officer stationed at the gate for such exigencies. If you are the person holding the stolen ticket, the officer will be asking some questions. As Desi Arnez would say to his love Lucy, “You got some ‘splaining to do!”

If you find yourself having been scammed by a ticket scalper, you can certainly report the incident to the police. Do not expect a lot of sympathy from the officer you ask to take the report. Unless you can point out the scamp you bought the ticket from, the officer will probably tell you to make the report at the front desk, since that officer has about a gazillion fans, who bought their tickets properly, to look after.

You will find that most who sell stolen tickets do not do it near the gate so they won’t be identified if/when the ticket does not get the customer in the gate.

The illegal ticket sales associates with the biggest target on their backs for the police are the wheelers and dealers who sell to customers in traffic. Not only are these scoundrels scalping tickets and peddling without a permit, they are also soliciting in traffic, which is very illegal.

Soliciting in traffic falls under the disorderly conduct ordinances. This was my favorite ordinance for writing or arresting “professional” scalpers.

The law was initially enacted to keep Ann Arbor free of “squeegee men” who wash your windshield while you are stopped at a light and then solicit — spelled "demand" or "extort" — a tip for their efforts. The implied threat is that if you do not cough up some loot, the squeegee’s metal frame might “accidently” scrape the side of your car as you drive off.

This law works equally well with those selling tickets in traffic. The reason I preferred this violation was because they were easy to prove by just watching “professional scalpers” offer tickets for sale to a person in a car. It was also gratifying to get these guys off the street because they really hold up football traffic around the Big House.

Whether the deal is completed or not, the mere offering of tickets for sale or trying to buy tickets in traffic is a violation. The scalper’s actions also showed me where they were holding their stash of tickets.

Confiscating the rest of the scalper’s tickets was for evidentiary purposes, but, more importantly, it hopefully put that scalper out of business for the rest of the day.

The police mission for scalping details focus on the “professional scalpers.” However if you are selling tickets, do not make the same mistake a woman from Brighton made about five years ago.

My partner that day was a female detective I’ll call “Jesse.” We had just written a ticket to a “professional” and were walking south on Main Street. Jesse was scribbling notes about the last violator in her notebook and still had her badge on a necklace obvious on her chest when this lady jumps in front of her, blocking Jesse’s way down the sidewalk. The pushy lady offers up her tickets for sale well over the list price. REALLY?

Jesse and I exchanged incredulous glances. Jesse looked back at the woman, flashed a friendly smile, grabbed the tickets, said she would be happy to take the tickets and would she be kind enough to show us some identification.

According to the University of Michigan, "StubHub is the only authorized site through which a resale of tickets may be conducted.” That being said, if you must sell a ticket, sell it to a friend, family member or co-worker.

If you decide to roll the dice and sell a ticket around the Big House or the Union, do not do it in an obvious manner, in front of a police officer or to anyone wearing a really incredibly ugly maize and blue Hawaiian shirt.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

What a waste of police resources. If someone wants to get rid of tickets they don't want or need anymore, why shouldn't they be able to sell them? If someone was unable to get tickets through the ticket office, why shouldn't they be able to buy them wherever the tickets are offered. "But what about all those 'professionals' who buy up all the tickets?" Well, the main reason that professionals can make a profit is because the tickets are sold below the market value. If the university charged $1000 per ticket, no one would be able to buy and resell them because very, very few people would be willing or able to pay more than $1000. If the university wants to stop brokers from buying up tickets, it should raise the ticket price so that supply and demand are closer to equilibrium. If that means you can't afford the price of a ticket to a game that you want to go to, well, that's life. I want a Ferrari, but that doesn't mean that I'm entitled to one.

Kk Ichikawa

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 12:06 a.m.

....sell expensive pencils and "give away" FREE football tickets with every purchase!! Maybe get a peddlers permit from the City and you should be all good!!! Maybe you'd only lose the pencils since that's what you're offering for sale!!

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

heh-heh ... memories ... free beer, cups $4 ... inside the house & you stay there. got your own cup? make a cup outta your hands? no problme, free beer. buy a pencil, get a free ticket!

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

I find it kind of offensive that Mr Kinsey has decided to link beer drinkers, pot smokers, and people who listen to music with ticket thievery.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

I understand scalping tix. is illegal. but when they are scalping they hang out right in front of the security guards and police right at the front gates. so it often leads people to believe that it "cant possibly be illegal if they are doing it right here in front of police and everyone" last time u bought tix from a scalper . the price on the ticket said $60 but he only asked for $40. i ended up sitting next to the group of people in the game that sold the scalper the ticket and they said they sold the ticket for $20. Not to mention they were decent seats, i wast squished in between people and got a great view of the field. so it seems like everyone made out on that deal.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

last time I bought**


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

I agree with commenter, Ross.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

How can it be legal to sell your tickets on Stubhub but illegal to sell them around the stadiunm? That's just crazy. It's also a complete waste of time for our police force. Goodness knows we don't have enough police and fire fighters in Ann Arbor, so the least we can do is to use them on important stuff.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

The Fall has officially arrived with the publication of the annual self-serving "when I was on the job" ticket scalping story. Much of the story is exaggeration or fiction. I have never encountered anyone in the street selling tickets. Just how many people buy bogus tickets? How many tickets were stolen and resold? How many times do we have to hear about this guy's shirt?

Jim Osborn

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Are you kidding. How can anyone go toe the Big House and not see this? OK I did not look last year, but in years past, when I parked on the west side, I saw scalpers in the open.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

If you have never seen anyone reselling tickets on the street you have never looked.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

I'm really glad the police are using resources and setting up sting operations to lock people up for buying tickets at 20 bucks and selling them for 40. Very very rarely do tickets ever get sold for over face value. Around here there are only 3 opponents that command premium prices. MSU, OSU and ND. Don't the cops have better things to do? Undercover sting operations to bust ticket hustlers? You got to be kidding me.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1 p.m.

kunzorama, I am really glad you brought up this point. Currently, stub hub has actually caused a rash of scams because of this. Before stub hub, the only thing you had to worry about was counterfeit tickets which were very uncommon and relatively easy to spot. Now there are tons of tickets issued by the university out there that have their barcodes deactivated. It's very easy to burn somebody now.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

Who would want to pay money to see Michigan Football? There is Denard, a two time September Heisman winner and ....???? No Thanks, I will watch it on TV and save my money!

Blue Marker

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Every time a Spartan fan feels compelled to comment on a Michigan story it reaffirms how they measure themselves.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

The answer is: Approximately 113,000 people, almost every fall Saturday. But ya - other than those people, you're right: "Who indeed?"


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

Note that if I sell my tickets on StubHub, they buyer gets to print a piece of paper with a barcode on it, to use to get into the game, and I have four useless tickets in hand that look perfectly normal. Should those tickets somehow be given away, sold by a scalper, or otherwise used to try to get into the game, the person holding those tickets will be turned away at the gate! I suspect this will happen more than a few times in the future and people will become increasingly reluctant to buy tickets from scalpers or anybody else they don't know and trust.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Chris, Stubhub won't make whole the buyer of the original, now-invalid tickets. But I believe that Stubhub will only sell U-M tickets via the barcode, such that generally the ticket will be traced to a/the season ticket holder, who will have the splainin' to do.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

If you are the buyer, stubhub will make you whole. They will work hard to get you new tickets at their expense or refund your money.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Naw, gotta disagree with you again here, Kinsey. You first half of the column is based upon the premise that many scalped tickets are stolen... from students? No, wrong, the vast majority of tickets being re-sold on the street are NON-student tickets. Especially now that student tickets need to be "validated" by paying them up to full price at a ticket office that's a 20 minute walk away from the stadium with a long line. Makes it fairly impossible to re-sell student tickets successfully - thanks, UM. Second, I have very rarely seen people selling tickets in the middle of the road. As you assert, this would surely be dangerous. But again, the vast majority of the "career" ticket re-sellers are safely on the sidewalk, politely offering tickets for sale. I think it is a dang shame that people cannot legally re-sell their tickets to a game without some B.S. permit. In my opinion, as long as you don't sell over face value, it should be perfectly legal to unload your tickets in the event that you cannot attend the game. People who collect a lot of these un-needed tickets and offer them for sale on the sidewalk are DOING A SERVICE for the rest of us, usually being quite fair and honest about it. I will gladly continue to seek them out when I need tickets, and thank them for what they are doing. Theres 110,000 tickets for every game - someone needs to clean up the scraps, and good for them if they can make a buck or two from it. The only reason that STUB-HUB is an officially authorized re-selling marketplace for tickets is because they charge ridiculous fees to customers who utilize them, and then PAY the university of Michigan for the label of "authorized". It is a big, stupid, scam, that I have only used once and it left a horrible taste in my mouth for the fees that amounted to a 50% surcharge on my ticket price. CRAIGSLIST AND STREET SALES FOR THE WIN!


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Well stated, Ross. If a buyer of tickets knows the seating sections in relation the playing filed, they would know if a seller was pushing a student ticket. Certainly something I would spot and avoid. Many folks I know who buy from a "scalper" hasn't been burned.

Jim Osborn

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

I agree 100% - Let the buyer size up the seller and decide. He is out if it is stolen, ending that market.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:14 p.m.

Making it illegal to resell a ticket (except on stubhub where the University gets a cut of the 25% fee) because the ticket might be stolen makes little sense. Why not pass a law against pawn shops, want ads, ebay, craigslist, I mean there might be something stolen for sale. I read a story awhile back where a guy recovered his classic car stolen decades earlier fir sale in a car lot. Lets ban used car lots.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

you got me there Chris.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

It makes great sense if you are Stubhub ($$) or the University ($$)


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:40 p.m.



Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

Remember that scalping is ILLEGAL and BAD. Unless you do it through the university's officially-approved scalping partner Stubhub, in which case it is LEGAL and GOOD and downright American. Got that?


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

Money talks. (and common people lose). Dave Brandon's happy about it though.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:07 a.m.

Mr. Kinsey...did you ever work a beat with Ms. Vaughn? No real reason for the question, I just always liked her. She was a good cop for sure.

Steve Hendel

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

What is the difference between selling football tickets at a marked-up price and selling anything else in the same manner? There are risks in any such transaction, especially when the buyer does not know the seller; but why is the transaction ITSELF illegal? If I buy a book for $10 and offer it for sale at $11, would you call that "book scalping"? No, you'd call it "free enterprise."

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

Most ticket sales where "buy up by scalpers" is a worry simply put a limit on how many you can buy at a time. Many scalpers buy their tickets on the secondary market, often under face value and resell them anyway.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

Nope, Steve, that analogy doesn't work either. The point is that with event tickets the pros can largely block public access to the tickets at the source. They can pay people to stand in line for hours / days (when that's still appropriate), or to be at multiple computers the second that tickets go on sale. With collectibles that have been in circulation for years / decades the potential does not exist for a person or small group to instantaneously buy up all existing copies all at one time.

Steve Hendel

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Billy, how about this analogy then: there are presumably a limited number of copies of the first Batman comic book-so should the publisher and/or the government be allowed to regulate the secondary comic book market? The point is, why should a ticket to a sporting event be treated differently from any other economic good when it comes to being sold and resold? You might as well ban EBay.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Actually there is but ONE of each painting Picasso created....not multiples. It's not comparable to sporting event tickets in this respect AT ALL. Also, the value of said paintings is effectively permanent....the value of said tickets has an expiration date.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.

Billy, it's called supply and demand. For most games, tickets are sold well under face value.

Steve Hendel

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

Billy, there are a limited number of Picasso paintings, but that doesn't stop their being sold and resold for gazillions of dollars.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:13 a.m.

It's illegal, to keep scumbags from buying up ALL the tickets that are left and then flipping them at an extortion price. You don't see this with the transaction of other goods because OTHER goods don't have such limited availability. There is a small finite number of tickets for each event....this doesn't apply when you're selling say...a cellphone or a video game console.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 10:07 a.m.

Thank you, Mr. Kinsey, for these columns. Always fascinating and with a nice sense of humor. I really enjoy reading them!

Steve Hendel

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 1:48 a.m.

Think of scalping as a business; when a business (especially one with low overhead) is seen as being very profitable, that encourages other entrants into the market, and the ensuing competition can result in lower prices and better service. You can nitpick any analogy, but the basic point is this: IN PRINCIPLE, why should profit on the resale one very specific economic good (public event tickets) be essentlally forbidden ? After all, at many public events, sporting and otherwise, varying prices are charged for admission based on demand; that's why box seats to a Tigers game cost more than bleacher seats. You could call THAT scalping of a sort, eh? ,