How To Get A Refund If Your Ticketed Event Goes Terribly Wrong

We all occasionally buy tickets for events that are disappointing, but a recent Scotland event has gone viral for just how badly it fell short of what it promised.

The February immersive event, “Willy’s Chocolate Experience,” took place in Glasgow, Scotland. It was supposedly inspired by Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which features the oddball chocolatier Willy Wonka. The event promised “captivating” live performances, “extraordinary props, oversized lollipops, and a paradise of sweet treats and interactive experiences,” according to the event’s website.

Last weekend’s attendees got anything but that.

Instead of the 45-minutes-to-an-hour experience promised on the website, Stuart Sinclair, a father who brought his children to the event, said it “took two minutes to get through to then see a queue of people surrounding the guy running it complaining,” according to his Facebook post.

Instead of “a paradise of sweet treats and interactive experiences,” families and children said they got a mostly empty warehouse with scattered decorations and the scarce offerings of a quarter-cup of lemonade. Some attendees were so unhappy that they called the police. The Willy Wonka actors themselves have since said they got “AI-generated gibberish” scripts, and that they feel “really embarrassed” by the jobs they were hired for.

Since the event, a Facebook group called “House of Illuminati Scam” has been created for disappointed participants seeking a refund. In a since-deleted social media statement, the event company House of Illuminati, which organized the Chocolate Experience, said it would “be giving full refunds to each and every person that purchased tickets.”

Hopefully, you will never have to pay £35, or about $44, for your child to reportedly get three jelly beans from a disenchanted Oompa Loompa actor. But at some point in your life, you very well might buy tickets for an event that ends up being wildly different from what it advertised. Here are the warning signs that the event you bought tickets for might not be what it claims ― and what you need to prove so you can fight for a refund.

1. The website for the event has typos.

"Encherining" and "Cartchy tuns"? Be wary of multiple typos on event websites.
“Encherining” and “Cartchy tuns”? Be wary of multiple typos on event websites.

On the Willy’s Chocolate Experience website, there are missing apostrophes and garbled terms like “cartchy tuns” and “catgacating.”

Most organizations take the time to proofread what they advertise. “Scammers often have poorly designed websites, numerous spelling errors, or a lack of social media presence, which seemed to be a red flag for the Wonka experience,” said Mike Lemberger, Visa’s regional risk officer for North America.

2. The event is not officially associated with the brand in question.

Bad actors take advantage of your enthusiasm for the popular movie or artist you want to see, so that you don’t look more closely at the details. The House of Illuminati event acknowledged on its website that its event was “in no way related to the Wonka franchise,” which in hindsight feels like a bad sign.

If the event is not an authorized retailer for merchandise or is not officially associated with the franchise, that should set off alarm bells, said Melanie McGovern, director of public relations and social media for Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit that tracks bad advertisements and customer complaints in North America.

“You don’t know what to expect if it’s not affiliated with the company that licenses and owns that image,” McGovern said. “You might not be getting what you think you’re getting. So that is definitely a red flag, and it’s very important for people to scroll to the bottom of a lot of websites to see all the information to make sure that it is what it says.”

3. There are no reviews ― or many bad reviews.

Lemberger said few or zero reviews can be a sign that the event is a scam.

If you still want to buy tickets from a business that has little social media presence and is a first-time organizer of the event, call the organizer and the promotional company about your concerns, McGovern suggested.

“Reputable companies will always answer your questions,” McGovern said. “They’ll work hard to earn your trust.”

Try to find out if there have been any other complaints about events that the company has run. “If you see the same complaint over and over again, that could give you a pause to maybe say ‘I might not want to do this,’ or ‘I’m going to do it anyway,’” McGovern said.

And double-check the name of the event and the organizers behind it. McGovern cited the example of how consumers complained to Better Business Bureau in 2021 about buying tickets for “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” ― an event that used virtual reality headsets ― thinking it was “Immersive Van Gogh,” a large-scale projected installation.

4. There are no terms and conditions, or only vague ones.

When you buy a ticket for an event, you want to know what will happen if the venue suddenly changes, if weather conditions shift, or if a performer drops out. The terms and conditions on the event’s website will typically outline that information.

“If the event details are vague, or if the organizer cannot provide specific information about the venue, performers, or event schedule, it might be a scam,” Lemberger said.

What you can do if you believe you’ve been scammed

It’s frustrating to have an underwhelming time at an event you paid significant money for. But there’s a difference between a disappointing experience and a potentially misleading one that can get you a refund.

For Lemberger, the difference is that a disappointing experience still delivered its product or service as promised by the organizer. “On the other hand, a scam is something that is intentionally misleading in an effort to make money,” he said.

If you believe you’re dealing with the latter category, here are actions you can take:

Ask the company to refund you.

“You should always reach out to the company where you made the purchase,” Lemberger said. “They may have policies in place to handle such situations and can handle it for you directly.”

Dispute the charge with your bank.

If the company refuses to provide a refund, you can dispute the charge with your bank. Save any receipts as proof of purchase and attendance, and take screenshots of what you believe the organizer sold as false advertisement to help your claim.

“Customers will need to provide documentation they have around the situation, including all receipts, emails, photos and screenshots related to the purchase,” Lemberger said. “When you dispute something with your bank, your bank [will] work with the merchant’s bank to investigate the situation and side with the appropriate party.”

But if you bought the tickets with cash or a debit card, you might be out of luck. Unless the event’s refund policy states otherwise, you probably will not be able to get your money back with cash or a debit card, McGovern said.

File a complaint.

If you’re in the U.S. or Canada, you can use Better Business Bureau to help you escalate your complaint and present it to the company on your behalf.

“Then the company would come back with, ‘OK, we’ll refund your money,’ or ‘According to our terms and conditions, there are no refunds,’ and then we would go back to the consumer,” McGovern said.

You can also file a consumer complaint to your local attorney general’s office.

Do your research before your next ticketed event.

Ultimately, it takes extra homework and research to avoid getting fooled. Lemberger noted that in the case of the Willy Wonka-themed event, the illustrations that appear AI-generated created a false impression of what the event would be like.

“What was delivered was certainly not what was advertised,” Lemberger said. “As generative AI tools become more accessible to everyone than ever before, it is easy for bad actors to create fake advertisements that do not represent the experience accurately.”

That’s why you should trust your instincts and make extra calls before buying a pass to that next immersive experience.

“Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always do your research before purchasing tickets to a live event,” Lemberger said.

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