Fred again.., one of dance music’s hottest artists, secretly arrived in Australia on February 27th. In true Fred again.. fashion, that very same day, he announced a raft of shows in arena-sized venues across Sydney, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast. According to multiple sources, this amounted to over 100,000 tickets – on weeknights, no less!

As one of the scene’s most hyped acts, he enjoys a rabid fan base that will do outrageous things to get the chance to come to one of his short-notice shows. So it should be no surprise that all 100,000 tickets sold within hours. But how many of these tickets were actually bought by fans?

Kasada and Triple J’s Hack program have uncovered a massive and ongoing bot-powered scalping operation for in-demand events. We now have a clear picture demonstrating how real fans are missing the chance to see their favourite performers. Artists and ticketing platforms alike lose millions each year to unscrupulous actors looking to make a quick buck.


Missing out on tickets

So there I was, staring at the ticketing platform’s page at 10 a.m. last week, waiting for my chance to buy tickets to one of my favourite artists. Waiting. More waiting. And then the news: all tickets had sold out within minutes of going on sale.

Soon afterward, outrage and disappointment began pouring in from dedicated fans and even Fred again.. himself.

A screenshot of a social media story with text expressing disappointment over an unforeseen event leading to many unsold tickets, alongside gratitude for the supportive messages received.

Fred again.. expresses widespread disappointment from his fans who were unable to buy tickets.
Unbeknownst to him, bots were the source of this disappointment.
Source: @fredagainagainagainagainagain on Instagram

 

A picture quickly began to form, as ticket resales with significant markups started to pop up all over social media and third-party ticketing platforms. To Kasada’s trained eye, these listings clearly weren’t from real fans that suddenly realised they couldn’t attend the show. These were organised scalpers that had mass targeted the ticketing platform – using bots to grab as many tickets as possible despite the ticketing platform restricting sales to 4 per person.

Email correspondence regarding the price of GA tickets.

Resellers quickly offering tickets for up to 400% of the $179.99 retail price.

 

The secret behind the scalpers

The operation targeting tickets for Fred again.. was no different to many others that we see. At its heart were sophisticated bots, originally targeted at hype drops of limited edition sneakers and now repurposed to purchase thousands of tickets and resell them to actual fans.

How do we know this? KasadaIQ collects data from thousands of non-traditional sources. We use this data to monitor, investigate, and block bot activity for our customers. When it became obvious that there was significant reselling of Fred again.. tickets, the Kasada team dug in to uncover the actors behind it.

Having access to this data enabled us to observe multiple groups consisting of up to 500 resellers conducting an active operation to buy upwards of 18,000 tickets and sell them for profit.

Since publication of our investigation, the scalpers have bragged that the true number is significantly higher than this. More on that below.

Text excerpt highlighting issues with scalpers exploiting legal loopholes.

Resellers tracking Fred’s flight into Australia and preparing to use bots to purchase events and resell tickets within legal gray area.

 

Each of these skilled groups are partnered with highly technical third party actors that run Solver Services. These sophisticated grey market systems are explicitly designed to bypass anti-bot protections on websites and mobile apps. For many bot management tools, it becomes impossible to detect and block their automated requests because the traffic appears as if it were coming from real users. They do this because they explicitly believe that “manual cops” (purchasing without a bot) would be impossible due to the competition from real fans and other groups seeking to use bots for the same purpose.

A screenshot of a message with redacted text, replacing specific service names with the phrase "[name of bot using a solver service]".

Resellers advising each other to use bot-driven Solver Services, as purchasing without a bot “would be almost impossible”.

Confirming this data, Triple J’s journalists spoke with resellers who admitted to using bots to bypass queues and purchase far more than the allowed number of tickets.

A screenshot of a text conversation where someone is inquiring about purchasing show tickets from scalpers, and the other person expresses their frequent attendance at shows.

Reseller admitting to using bots to sell at least 28 tickets.

 

We believe the number of tickets identified in our data to be an undercount, as we have evidence to suggest that many of the tickets were “copped” and resold on platforms that we don’t monitor. From our experience in the space, it would not be surprising if 20-35% or more of the 100,000 tickets were purchased using bots.

Update 13th March 2024: Since publication of our investigation, the scalpers have bragged that the true number is significantly higher than this. Perhaps as high as 80% of tickets sold to resellers.

Text displaying sale information with a focus on bulk discounts for scalpers and prioritizing buyers over 50 years of age.

A Solver Service advertising the ability to purchase large amounts of tickets for a profit, which are then sold on to others for an even greater profit.

 

How much did they make?

Our data also gives us visibility into the resale value of these tickets. The median resale price between resellers is $270, representing a 50% markup on the original $179.99 price.

Median price of $270 for resellers

KasadaIQ data tracking the median reseller price of Fred again.. tickets in Australia.

 

However, this is not the full story. Resellers buy from other resellers before listing them on third-party platforms where the end consumer (in this case, real Fred again.. fans) can actually purchase the ticket. On these platforms, we saw ticket prices of between $300 and $450. Triple J spoke with consumers who paid $750 for tickets to some of his shows, over 400% of the original price.

Collage of event listings and photos featuring Fred again.. performing at various venues.

Tickets listed for resale of between $250 and $400 on Facebook Marketplace.

 

At scale, this generates whopping returns for the resellers who have done nothing but pump up prices for everyday people who just want to see their favourite act. A simple calculation of a $270 resale value on 18,000 tickets means resellers profited $1,620,180. The actual profit here is likely much higher due to the resale value on third-party platforms being higher than $270 and not all tickets being listed on platforms we monitor. Regardless of the exact number, this is no play money.

Screenshot of a messaging app boasting about financial gains with a highlighted monetary sum of $5,349.00 and various reactions to the post.

Resellers made thousands of dollars using bots to “auto-checkout” tickets.

 

The dirty secret

Here at Kasada, none of this is a surprise to us. We’re well versed at protecting “hype drops” of limited edition products for some of the largest retailers and footwear companies in the world. The threat they face is from bots. Using the power of automation and scale, these scripts purchase all available stock of an in-demand item as soon as it is released. The “bot masters” then list it for resale on third-party platforms. Often, they sell to other resellers, who look for even higher profits with end consumers. The real customers never have a chance.

To unlock massive profits, the reseller only has to pay the purchase price plus a few cents to dollars of overhead to run the bots and bypass the bot management solution used by the platform. Many bot management technologies have failed to move with the times, which means it’s open season for botters anywhere these supposedly impenetrable solutions get used.

Image of a text listing various shows or events with the title 'wts fred again tickets' indicating tickets for sale for a performance by fred again in different cities and dates.

A single reseller offering a total of 45 tickets across show dates in Sydney and Melbourne for a 66% markup of the retail price.

 

This is an open secret in underground reseller communities. Members of these groups often brag about “copping” large amounts of stock, organise themselves for upcoming drops, and research ways of improving their craft to maximise profit. These communities frequently “partner” with a wide range of services designed to help them bypass queues, automatically check out thousands of stock, and avoid detection while doing it. They are blatant in their assessment of many popular anti-bot technologies they deem “easy” to bypass.

It’s incredibly unfair, with the scales tipped firmly towards those with the technical know-how to set up sophisticated botting operations versus regular fans who just want to have a night of fun without breaking the bank.

You may be asking yourself: “Is any of this legal?” It’s a legal grey area. In Australia, there are various anti-scalping legislation and laws enforced on a state level. Within the US, there’s the BOTS Act of 2016. In practice, however, it is very difficult and unlikely to enforce such legislation at scale. Given the enormous profits being made by ticket scalpers, it’s largely up to the ticketing platforms, who often have exclusive agreements with venues, to protect music fans from the unethical mass scalping of their favourite artists.

As a fan myself, I hope the ticketing industry is able to get this problem under control soon.

 


 

If you’d like to get actionable insights on threats to your company or stop bots on your website, mobile apps, and APIs, get your free Kasada IQ Snapshot or contact our team of experts.

Want to learn more?

  • Why CAPTCHAs Are Not the Future of Bot Detection

    I’m not a robot” tests are definitely getting harder. But does that mean more complex CAPTCHAs are the right path forward to outsmart advancing AI and adversarial technologies?

  • The New Mandate for Bot Detection – Ensuring Data Authenticity

    Can the data collected by an anti-bot system be trusted? Kasada's latest platform enhancements include securing the authenticity of web traffic data.

Beat the bots without bothering your customers — see how.