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Inauguration Day tickets: Avoid the scams

Tickets to the historical Jan. 20 presidential inauguration ceremony are hot items — allowing scalpers to capitalize on citizens' enthusiasm.

In the coming months, an estimated 250,000 tickets will be available to President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. Attendance is free but demand is expected to far outweigh supply. Online, ticket scalpers are taking advantage of the heightened demand by taking bids on items they have yet to secure for purchase.

"The public should also be aware that no website (sic) or other ticket outlet actually has inaugural swearing-in tickets to sell, regardless of what they may claim," according to the Senate's Inaugural Web site, http://inaugural.senate.gov/2009/tickets.cfm.

Going fast:

Passes to the inaugural swearing-in ceremony are dealt to Congress members by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

U.S. senators and representatives of the 111th Congress are then in charge of divvying them out to the public. Congress members have not been informed how many tickets they will each receive, said Michael Amato, communications director for local U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-District 9).

Furthermore, tickets are not expected to be released until the week prior to the ceremony.

"No tickets have been distributed yet," Amato said. "I don't even think they have been printed yet."

But that has not stopped ticket requests from progressively rolling in, Amato said. Smith's staff is busy documenting the requests. Smith's U.S. Congress Web page now says his office is unable to process any more ticket requests, due to the extensive number already sought.

"We've gotten an unbelievable amount of calls," Amato said. "We've gotten far more requests than tickets we will receive."

While some citizens will wait and try their luck at receiving tickets from Congress members, others are already turning to Web sites such as Craigslist.org, eBay and inauguraltickets.com in an attempt to gain admission to history in the making.

High-priced market:

Virginia-based DreamTix.com advertises general admission tickets for the swearing-in ceremony starting at $1,155, according to its Web site.

Single and four-pack tickets to the inaugural parade were also found on eBay through a search conducted Nov. 17 by The Mirror. A representative was unavailable to comment as to how the company was able to offer tickets or whether it guaranteed purchases.

On Nov. 13, eBay announced that it will no longer offer the tickets, according to a Nov. 17 AOL news article titled "Inaugural tickets hot — and hard to get." But tickets to the Jan. 19 inaugural ball — with an asking bid of $65 each — had 13 bidders on Nov. 17, according to another eBay search.

A CNN.com report found some online ticket brokers are asking $20,000 or more each for seats to the inauguration. The ticket frenzy has overlapped into other markets too. A four-day, three-night stay at Maryland's BWI Hilton hotel during the days leading up to and through the inauguration is tipping the scale at $2,600, according to a Nov. 17 eBay search.

Consumer warnings:

The pre-sells have the Better Business Bureau and Congress on edge.

The BBB has warned consumers to be on the lookout for scalpers, who are attempting to sell a product they have not secured. Even those who purchase tickets through the Internet could find themselves watching the ceremony on television — out the price of an airline flight and hotel — if scalpers sell more tickets than they acquire or are unable to garner the passes, said Robert W. G. Andrew, CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington, in a Nov. 13 press release.

"You run the risk of never even getting the ticket at all," said Michael Amato, communications director for local Congressman Adam Smith.

In the coming weeks, Smith's staff will be faced with the dilemma of doling out the tickets while simultaneously trying to ensure they are handed to people who are truly interested in the groundbreaking event, rather than the cash the passes can rake in online.

"We would hate to distribute tickets to people and have them sell them," Amato said.

Staff may chose to issue the tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis, but that has not been decided yet, Amato said. Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is reportedly writing legislation requesting punishment for anyone trying to scalp tickets, according to the AOL article.

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Check it out:

The office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) can be reached at (202) 224-3441 or e-mailing online at http://cantwell.senate.gov/contact/. U.S. Sen.

Patty Murray (D-WA) can be reached at (202) 224-2621 or e-mailing online at http://murray.senate.gov/email/index.cfm.

The Better Business Bureau advises anyone who is scammed on inauguration tickets to inform the company by filing a complaint online at www.bbb.org or with the state's Attorney General’s office.

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