Three Great Neck ticket brokers that used computer bots to elbow out legitimate buyers and purchase more than 150,000 tickets for resale have been ordered to pay millions of dollars in civil penalties, according to court documents.
The case marks the first prosecution under the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016, which empowers the Federal Trade Commission to take enforcement action in cases where bots are used to outmaneuver online ticket sellers.
The judgment in U.S. District Court in Central Islip calls for the defendants — Just in Time Tickets Inc. and Evan Kohanian; Cartisim Corp. and Simon Ebrani, and Concert Specials Inc. and Steven Ebrani — to pay a total of $31 million in civil penalties.
Because they were unable to pay that sum, however, the judgment was reduced to a total of $3.7 million — $1.6 million from Concert Specials and Steven Ebrani; $1.6 million from Just in Time and Kohanian, and $499,147 for Cartisim and Simon Ebrani.
Efforts to reach an attorney for the trio, Leonard Gordon of Manhattan, were unsuccessful. A person who did not identify themselves in a telephone call to Just in Time Tickets declined to comment.
The three complaints said the companies, which shared an address on Middle Neck Road in Great Neck, bought thousands of tickets on Ticketmaster and then resold them for millions of dollars, often at a steep markup.
The scheme ran from Jan. 1, 2017, to the present day and included buying ticket blocks to Elton John concerts and other popular acts, the charges said.
Ticketmaster bars users from holding multiple accounts, but the brokers opened accounts in fictitious names as well as those of friends and family.
The trio also used specialized software tools to foil Ticketmaster features such as CAPTCHA — Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart — which are designed to weed out nonhuman buyers, the complaints said.
The ticket brokers employed software such as Automatick, which would bypass the CAPTCHA test, and Tixman, which would automatically reserve tickets according to search criteria, the complaints said.
"These ticket brokers used bots and other technical tricks to scoop up thousands of tickets to popular events as soon as they went on sale," Andrew M. Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.
"Those who violate the BOTS Act cheat fans by forcing them to pay inflated prices to attend concerts, theater performances and sporting events," acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme said in a statement.
The settlement also prohibits the trio from using bots to defeat access controls at ticket-selling sites and purchasing tickets in the names of anyone other than those of the defendants, corporate officers or employees.