Scalpers still operating at World Cup despite crackdown

MOSCOW (AP) - Scalpers are still operating at the World Cup, despite claims of a crackdown by FIFA and Russian organizers on illicit ticket sales.

Sellers have been visible outside the main ticket office in Moscow, buying spare tickets from foreign fans and sell at inflated prices.

An Associated Press reporter was approached six times within an hour and offered tickets including a luxury Category 1 seat at the opening game Thursday between Russia and Saudi Arabia. One was offered at $700, or $150 above the standard price.

The most in-demand tickets, such as for Argentina's opening game, are being offered online for as much as $2,300, though buyers have no guarantee they're getting genuine access to the games.

FIFA has tried to cancel some tickets and last week filed a criminal complaint against ticket resale website Viagogo. Russia has made World Cup scalping punishable by a fine for individual sellers of up to 25 times the ticket's face value.

Despite the tough talk from Russian authorities, police stationed at the ticket office on a night earlier this week did little besides briefly inspect one seller's documents.

Each World Cup ticket must be registered to an individual, but sellers exploit a loophole in FIFA's system allowing fans to buy up to four tickets then change the registered names to three of them. So long as the new recipient has at least one ticket of their own - and so is registered in Russia's Fan ID system - a switch is possible.

"You just need ID," said one seller, who said he was from France and had sold "lots" of tickets in the last month. He offered two tickets that had been issued under Russian men's names while standing next to the ticket office sign that said "tickets are not available for most games."

Like others, he declined to give his name because the re-selling is illegal.

Another seller claimed he'd received complimentary tickets and was selling them to fund his World Cup journey. "Because FIFA's given me this ticket, it's like a game to make money," he said, displaying tickets to four different games. He then exchanged phone numbers with a fan, apparently to arrange a handover elsewhere.

Five men with English accents worked as a group, splitting up to approach fans in the queue for the sales office. One held a thick wad of tickets.

Still, it's a case of buyer beware. There's no reliable way to check if the tickets are fake, have been canceled or whether the seller really changed the registration.

"A significant number of unauthorized online ticket sales, offered via websites and on social media originating from various countries, have been stopped," FIFA said in a statement. "Overall FIFA counts on the cooperation of the respective authorities to protect fans from scalpers in line with the applicable regulations." FIFA didn't respond to a question regarding scalpers operating outside the ticket office.

FIFA policy states registrations should only be changed to a person with "a pre-existing relationship with the ticket purchaser."

FIFA's system doesn't allow the original buyer of a group booking to change their own registration, only those of other guests, so a fan could end watching the game next to their scalper.