Beware of scams targeting SXSW attendees, says BBB

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reminding consumers to be wary of scams and fraud targeting those attending South by Southwest (SXSW).

SXSW is set to return this weekend after being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It remained virtual in 2021 and 2022 is expected to be a hybrid event this year with virtual and in-person components. 

BBB is warning consumers about scams and fraud SXSW attendees should remain on the lookout for as the event gets underway this week. 

QR code fraud

The BBB says that reports of fraudulent QR codes continue to stream into its Scam Tracker from across the nation. Once consumers scan a fraudulent QR code, it may direct them to a malicious website that requests personal information or automatically downloads malware onto their electronic device. 

Consumers may encounter fraudulent QR codes on a flyer, on the back of a parking meter, and through email or other methods of communication, says the BBB.

In January, the Austin Police Department (APD) issued a public warning after they discovered fraudulent QR code stickers on City of Austin public parking meters which directed the users to a website and to submit payment to a fraudulent vendor.

  • Look for tampering. Some scammers attempt to mislead consumers by altering legitimate business ads, such as placing stickers over a pre-existing QR code. Before scanning a code, run your finger over the edges to see if it might be a sticker. Remember that scammers often impersonate businesses and organizations, and official logos are easy to place on fraudulent materials. It is always good practice to verify with the organization the communication material is legitimate before scanning a QR code provided in an unsolicited email or text. 
  • Avoid making payments to sites linked to a QR code. If a QR code directs you to a website that requests payment, BBB and the FBI recommend avoiding it entirely. Instead, manually enter a known and trusted URL to complete the payment. Additionally, it is crucial never to download an app from a QR code as there is no way to verify it is safe. If directed to an app from a QR code, use your phone’s app store to download it for an extra level of safety. 

Ticket/badge scams

Ticket scams are a common occurrence in the week leading up to an event as interested attendees who may not have purchased a ticket before it sells out search desperately for other avenues. Scammers often entice consumers with deeply discounted tickets, and SXSW is no exception. 

The BBB says that online searches will provide many opportunities to purchase tickets or badges to SXSW on third-party sites. However, these purchases come with the risk of engaging with fraudulent sellers. 

  • Use protected payment methods. BBB recommends using credit cards when purchasing tickets online and avoiding payments by cash, wire transfer, or gift cards when possible. Credit cards offer additional protections to revoke charges if the ticket is never received or fraudulent. Be especially wary if the deal seems too good to be true - it probably is. 
  • Understand the details. Only purchase tickets from a reseller that provides transparent information about the transaction terms. SXSW sells multiple different badges for the events hosted, and not all badges will get you access to all events. BBB recommends purchasing directly from the venue at rather than from a third party.

Hotels and third-party booking sites

SXSW attracts travelers across the world to Austin during the event. According to SXSW event statistics, more than 417,000 people attended SXSW in 2019, and guests booked 55,000 hotel room nights. 

The BBB says its Scam Tracker continually receives reports of third-party booking sites advertising properties for travelers to stay that are either non-existent, over-booked, or comes stacked with hidden fees. Even when staying at national hotel chains, the BBB says it is crucial to remain aware of scams targeting hotel guests, such as fake front desk calls and unsecured "free" Wi-Fi connections. 

  • Call the rental owner. If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, do not negotiate a rental solely by email. Many scammers don’t live locally. Speaking with the owner on the phone and asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will clarify whether the listing is genuine. An owner with vague answers is a clear red flag.
  • Question irregular front desk calls. Beware of phone calls while staying in a hotel room from someone claiming to be from the front desk asking to verify payment details over the phone. They may claim your payment method was declined and need to verify it to secure the room. In all cases, an actual hotel staff member will never ask for your payment information over the phone, and it is always best to talk with the front desk in person if there is a question regarding payment. 
  • Exercise caution with public Wi-Fi connections. When connecting to Wi-Fi connections, especially in the lobby or another public place in a hotel, be wary of unsecured access points. Scammers using this tactic collect all the data transmitted through the connection, including websites accessed, passwords, and credit card information. 

Consumers can go online for more tips on how to identify and avoid scams. Victims can report scams to BBB Scam Tracker.

SXSW festival to kick off this week starting March 11
SXSW 2022: Guide to shows, installations, activations, and pop-ups
SXSW 2022: Film, Music, Comedy festivals guide
SXSW 2022: Dates, tickets, events, COVID-19 policy guide
Austin-Travis County moves to Stage 2 ahead of SXSW
SUBSCRIBE: Daily Newsletter | YouTube
FOLLOW: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter