Two former students from Southampton Solent University have admitted ripping off people across the country by selling fake tickets to some of the UK's biggest music festivals.
Dale Richard Frost and David Labi Martins, both 21, netted in the region of £18,000 and pocketed around £11,000 once they'd covered the costs of setting up their operation.
None of the proceeds have been recovered from the two men although most of the victims got their money back because they paid using secure and protected methods including PayPal or Google Checkout.
Officers from Southampton City Council's Trading Standards team began their investigation after receiving complaints in June 2009. Once the fraudsters' activities had come to light, the team worked quickly to shut the operation down and bring the men to justice.
The first online sale was completed in March 2009 and the last recorded transaction was on June 9.
Frost and Martins were in their first year of studying Business Studies and Web Design courses at Southampton Solent University when they conceived their plan.
They were suspended from their courses and removed from the university roll as soon as their activities were exposed.
Frost and Martins both pleaded guilty to two offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and the Companies Act 2006 at Southampton Magistrates' Court and the case was adjourned until next month for sentencing.
Frost and Martins sold tickets priced at up to £250 from a self-produced website to punters eager to get their hands on tickets for some of the country's biggest events. The site displayed logos and pictures lifted from genuine event sites including the Download, Isle of White and Reading festivals.
However buried deep in the terms and conditions on the website was a brief mention of the fact that the tickets would not guarantee entry into the event - that would be at the discretion of the event organisers.
When consumers eventually received the tickets - usually just days before the event and by now too late to get genuine tickets - they quickly noticed that they were marked with the word "novelty" and would not get them into the event they had paid for.
Everyone Trading Standards spoke to said they had fully expected to receive genuine tickets.
After an extensive investigation by Southampton City Council's Trading Standards team, which involved a massive paper trail and processing dozens of complaints from disappointed consumers, officers raided the scammers' accommodation and secured the remaining evidence they needed to bring a conviction.
Over the course of the investigation around 70 victims were identified from the scammers' bank and computer records making this one of the biggest scams tackled by Southampton's Trading Standards Officers.
Councillor Matthew Dean, Southampton City Council's cabinet member for Environment and Transport, is ultimately responsible for protecting consumers in the city. He said:
"I applaud the work our Trading Standards team carried out during this operation.
"This case highlights the work that the council is involved in every day to protect residents from unscrupulous traders who care nothing for delivering a service or product and want only to pocket people's hard-earned money.
"This was a particularly brazen scam but it is by no means unique. I would urge residents to be especially cautious when spending large sums of money online with vendors they've not dealt with previously."
Office of Fair Trading (OFT) research last year found that one in twelve ticket buyers admitted to having been caught out by a scam ticket website. Scammers often prey on fans' last minute desperation to get hold of tickets and often send the fake tickets out just a few days before the event, leaving little time for consumers to take action.
Tips to avoid being scammed online:
* Choose your shopping sites carefully
* Help your self - think price, place and packaging
* Ensure the site is secure (look for https and the padlock symbol)
* Contact the authorities if you spot something suspicious
* Keep a copy of your order, website details and acknowledgements
More on safe online shopping is available from the Trading Standards Institute website at www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/advice/internet.cfm