Want to buy tickets to the Obama inauguration? Let the buyer beware

A record number of Americans want to be a part of history and attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama but, unfortunately, only 250,000 tickets are up for grabs.

While many Web sites are claiming to sell tickets online, the Better Business Bureau is advising the public that purchasing scalped tickets could leave you out in the cold with empty pockets on Inauguration Day.

So how does someone get a ticket to the most popular event of 2009? The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is responsible for divvying out tickets to Congressional representatives. It is then up to the Congressmen and woman to hand out the tickets — which are free—to constituents the day before the inauguration.

According to the Times Wires Services, some members of Congress — who usually have several hundred tickets to pass out at their discretion—have received thousands of requests. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told the Washington Post that his office had received 40,000 requests for tickets.

The fact that tickets haven’t even been distributed to the members of Congress yet hasn’t stopped online scalpers from trying to rake in cash from patriotic Americans. A CNN.com report found that some online ticket brokers were selling VIP seats for upward of $20,000 each. While many online brokers offer a money-back guarantee if they can’t secure the tickets, the purchaser will likely already be en route to Washington, D.C., before they receive the bad news that the broker couldn’t provide the promised tickets.

“Considering these online brokers won’t even know for certain they have tickets until just before the Inauguration, an American looking to be a part of history might travel all the way to Washington D.C. and spend Jan. 20 watching the swearing in from their hotel room,” said Robert W. G. Andrew, CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.

Not only are scalpers trying to sell tickets they don’t have, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the chair of the Inaugural Committee, plans to introduce legislation this month that would make scalping inaugural tickets a misdemeanor crime. The inaugural committee also is alerting lawmakers that it is a violation of Congress’ code of ethics for members or staff to sell their tickets.

While there are a number of issues associated with purchasing inaugural tickets online, for those that are willing to assume the risk, the following steps should be taken to reduce the chances of being ripped off:

• When buying from a ticket reselling company online, buyers should always look for the BBBOnLine seal. The BBBOnLine logo is a sign that the company has a good reputation for satisfying customers and a secure Web site for processing payments.

• Paying with a credit card or through PayPal will provide protection and the opportunity for potential reimbursement if the company is fraudulent. Consumers should never pay with a cashier’s check or wire money to a seller, as they will have no way to get their money back if the tickets do not arrive.

• Consumers who have been ripped off buying tickets online can file a complaint with Better Business Bureau online at www.bbb.org. They can also file complaints with their state Attorney General’s office.

Because of the overwhelming requests for tickets, some members of Congress are planning to distribute tickets via a lottery system. Constituents can contact their local Member of Congress or U.S. Senators to request tickets and get their name in the hopper.



Your Better Business Bureau is a not-for-profit organization funded by Better Business Bureau accredited businesses. The BBB’s mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. For more information about the services and products provided by your BBB, call 206-431-2222 or 253-830-2924 in Washington, 503-212-3022 in Oregon or 907-562-0704 in Alaska, or visit our Web site at www.bbb.org.