Thirty international websites and 970 individuals targeted in operation against London 2012 ticket touts and scams
A hitlist of 30 international websites and 970 individuals, many linked to serious organised crime, are being targeted by police investigating the multimillion-pound black market in sports tickets in the runup to the Olympics.
One man is being hunted in Belgium for attempting to sell large quantities of Olympic tickets, and the Metropolitan police are liaising with the US national Olympic committee over several unauthorised sites attempting to sell seats illegally.
In the UK, known touts have tried to breach the official website selling Olympic tickets. About 100 attempted to buy seats in order to sell them on illegally, it is understood, but were identified and failed to do so.
In a separate case, an international ticketing company has been summonsed to appear before magistrates next month charged with the illegal sale of Olympic tickets.
With 38 days to go until the Games opening ceremony, the scale of the challenge facing the police charged with deterring, intercepting and bringing to justice criminals who make millions out of illegal ticket sales is huge and stretches across international boundaries.
DS Nick Downing, who is leading the British police's fight against organised crime exploiting the Games, said the Met's operation, known as Podium, was robust and innovative but would not be able to stop every ticketing scam.
Downing is examining information from a Sunday Times investigation containing evidence that Olympic officials and agents were prepared to sell thousands of tickets for up to £6,000 each. The investigation alleged 27 agents representing 54 countries – more than a quarter of the 204 nations attending the Games – were attempting to sell tickets illegally.
"The Metropolitan police here are trying to police the world and it's a massive police and intelligence challenge," Downing said. "We are doing everything we can to raise public awareness and to deter criminals from getting involved in this. The national Olympic committees and foreign law enforcement agencies have to detain people and disrupt activities also."
Selling Olympic tickets in the UK or abroad without authorisation from the London organising committee, Locog, is a criminal offence liable to a £20,000 fine under the 2006 Olympic Act.
One of the greatest threats to ticketing comes from international websites purporting to sell seats. Some may be selling unauthorised tickets illegally or committing fraud by selling tickets that do not exist.
E-crime detectives at Scotland Yard working with Podium officers are examining 30 websites over such suspicions.
None of the sites are registered in the UK, and Downing said this was testament to the proactive action taken here in the past two years.
"We are a hostile environment," Downing said. "Our approach has been pre-emptive from the start using every police tactic available and working with industry to target offenders. For example, in the early days anyone who registered a domain name containing the word Olympics was contacted and warned that if they intended to sell 2012 tickets they should think again."
Police believe evidence of fraud and ticketing scams is likely to emerge over the next few weeks as seats bought on any fraudulent websites fail to arrive at addresses.
Downing's team have examined evidence and intelligence from sporting events including the Beijing Olympics, where touts were plentiful outside the stadiums and more than 10,000 people, including the parents of the British swimmer Rebecca Adlington, fell victim to a £5m internet ticketing scam run by British criminals.
Pre-emptive operations have focused on individuals known to target sporting and music events including Wimbledon, Premier League football matches and the Rugby World Cup. Downing's team has arrested 186 people, and 100 have been charged – including 29 for fraud involving ticket sales, 38 for ticket touting (including three cases involving the alleged illegal sale of Olympic seats), and three for money laundering.
Three men accused of involvement in an alleged £3m black market in tickets for sporting and music events are awaiting trial next year on charges of money laundering and fraud.
Separately the international ticketing company Euroteam AS, based in Norway, has been summonsed to Westminster magistrates court on 4 July over 22 alleged offences of unauthorised sale of Olympic tickets.
Police have drawn up a hitlist of 970 individuals they believe could be part of a black market in Olympic tickets. All those on the list, who either have previous convictions for ticket touting or have emerged through Podium's inquiries, have been warned to stay away from the Games and will be subject to other disruptive action and arrest if intelligence suggests they are trying to sell seats for the Olympics.
Many are at one end of a chain linking to known organised crime groups, police believe. "What we have uncovered shows that organised crime networks of the highest level which are known to us are involved in ticketing offences," said Downing.
"This is a multimillion-pound crime. We won't know until the opening ceremony whether our action against ticket touts has worked, but what we do know is that we have taken the most robust action to keep them away." ends
Police are appealing for members of the public who purchased Olympic tickets through two websites – www.2012-londonsummergames.org and www.2012-londonsummergames.com – to come forward amid fears they have been defrauded. The sites have been disabled but detectives, who have been working with the Portuguese authorities, fear they may already have lured many victims into purchasing non-existent tickets.
Meanwhile, a 44-year-old man has been charged with two counts of fraud and the unauthorised sale of Olympic tickets.
-Sandra Laville, crime correspondent