Bamboozled: Beware of high series changes on concert tix

stripesWhen you make a purchase using a credit card, you have certain protections. Among them is the opportunity to dispute a transaction if you’re having a disagreement with a merchant.

But Maria Bruno of Brick said her credit card company made a bad situation worse.

It all started in October 2014 when the senior citizen decided to take her niece and nephew to an Allman Brothers concert.

The show was three days away, so Bruno searched for tickets online.

She found them on OnlineCityTickets.com, a ticket reseller.

Bruno wasn’t surprised that the tickets were costly, but she was taken aback by an exorbitant service charge she said didn’t show on screen when she made the purchase.

The three tickets came to $1,895.00, with shipping of $14.95 and a service charge of $569.80, for a total of $2,479.75.

After the purchase went through, she saw the charge. She said she immediately called OnlineCityTickets.com.??????????????????

“They said there were no refunds,” Bruno said.

She turned to her credit card company, Chase, for help.

“Chase told me to send the tickets back and they will dispute it and refund my money,” Bruno said.

So when the tickets arrived on the day of the show, Bruno sent them back, and Chase removed the charge from Bruno’s credit card statement.

A few months passed, and Chase came to a decision on the dispute.

“The merchant advised us that a credit would not be provided because the cancellation policy advises that all sales are final with no cancellations, refunds or returns accepted,” the letter said. “They also mentioned that the policy was displayed or discussed at the time of the sale.”

The disputed charge would be returned to Bruno’s credit card statement.

Bruno was confused. Chase, she said, never indicated that she might lose the dispute.

She said she sent the tickets back, as instructed by Chase.

“I’m not a gambler. I don’t go to Atlantic City,” Bruno said. “If I knew there was a chance I could lose, I would have gone to the show. Chase made it sound like a sure thing.”

So Bruno appealed with Chase, asking the lender to reconsider.

Chase sent a letter in March, saying it determined the transaction was valid.

Bruno was out of luck, and out nearly $2,500 for a concert she never got to see.

And, she still insisted the services charges were not there when she made the ticket purchase.

DIGGING DEEPER

We reviewed Bruno’s paperwork from the sale and her letters back and forth with Chase.

There was more to this story than Bruno realized.

OnlineCityTickets.com has an “A+” rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It has 187 complaints against it, but the high rating stands because the company addressed the complaints when contacted by BBB.

But the BBB listing revealed something that was mighty interesting.

It said a recent review of complaints filed with the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois — the area where the company is located — “delineates a pattern of consumer allegations.”

In their complaints, BBB said, consumers alleged that OnlineCityTickets.com “did not disclose an exorbitant service fee during the ticket ordering process.”

“In these complaints, consumers allege that it was not until they received their tickets or otherwise checked their bank statements that they noticed they were charged more than the final price quoted to them when the tickets were ordered,” BBB said. “These charges were for a previously undisclosed ‘service fee.'”

Sounds exactly like Bruno’s experience.

BBB said it received notice from OnlineCityTickets.com on Dec. 8, 2014, that it was putting some new procedures in place.

OnlineCityTickets.com told BBB it added an information pop-up that explains the service fees, BBB said.

To complete the checkout, consumers would now need to click a box agreeing to the terms. The company also said it added language saying, “I have reviewed Order Summary above,” which would show the total charge for every order, including ticket, service and delivery fees. Customers wouldn’t be able to place orders without checking that box, and above the “Place Order” button would be a summary of the charges.

Bruno purchased her tickets in October 2014, so it seems these changes went into effect after she made her purchase.

We reached out to OnlineCityTickets.com to clarify the timing of its new procedures, but it didn’t respond to our requests.

A quick online search hundreds of complaints against the ticket seller, and the Office of the Attorney General in Illinois said it had six complaints against the company.

The three cases, it was able to mediate and get full refunds for those who complained.

It said it would like Bruno to file a formal complaint with its office.

We also reached out to Chase.

While it wouldn’t discuss Bruno’s case with us, Bruno reported she received a call from the lender.

“[The rep] tells me that they have no record of my call to them about sending the tickets back,” Bruno said. “I remember that FedEx delivered the tickets the day of the concert. So why would I send them back unless Chase told me to?”

Chase may be a dead end, but Bruno will file a complaint with Illinois.

Her experience made us want to be sure that you, dear readers, understand how credit card disputes work.

They’re certainly not a sure thing.

“When a customer files a dispute over the phone, online or by mail, the disputed charges will be temporarily suspended while we process the customer’s claim,” Chase spokesman Paul Hartwick said. “Customers also are encouraged to provide any supporting documentation.”

As Chase processes the dispute, it may receive information from a merchant, such as a signed contract, delivery receipt or purchase receipt, Hartwick said. This could result in Chase reinstating the charge.

Lenders will remove the charge from your statement while investigating disputes, and you won’t be charged interest for the purchase. But if you lose the dispute, the charge will be put back on your bill.

In Bamboozled’s experience, few people ever win a dispute when a contract is involved. Lenders tend to say that it’s a legal matter, for example, if a consumer claims a company broke a contract. The consumer would then need to pursue another avenue, such as small claims court or a complaint to Consumer Affairs, to try to get relief.

We’ll let you know how Bruno makes out with authorities in Illinois.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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