Phony wristbands continue to irk festivalgoers, promoters…

It’s no secret that festivals are a big deal here at CoS. So it’s only natural that a report from the BBC on counterfeit wristbands caught our attention. While the issue of people taking advantage of the chaos that ensues from festivals will always occur, shocking details have emerged from the UK Festival Awards and Conference in London that threaten the likelihood and entertainment capacity of festivals across the pond and beyond.

Reg Walker with Iridium Security works closely with several UK fests, including T in the Park and Isle of Wight. Walker said that at Reading in 2009, over 100 wristbands were found to be frauds. What’s worse, at 2007’s Isle of Wight, one in five wristbands turned up as fakes. Despite a small percentage, Walker claims that this is merely a test run for 2010.

“One or more of the major festivals is going to get hit unless we deal with this now,” Walker said. “This is the most serious problem and the most serious challenge we face in 2010.”

This isn’t only a problem for those in the UK. According to an article detailing SXSW’s switch to RFID wristbands, 2003 saw counterfeit wristbands go as high as $500,000. The solution for the American festival behemoth was technology.

“The first year we used the ID bands, we were amazed at how much shorter the lines were at venues,” said Eve McArthur, SXSW Operations Director. “There must have been more counterfeit bands than we thought in the past. And since then, though our event is growing significantly each year, the lines have not grown accordingly.”

The largest problem is the relative ease of creating these wristbands. While many have secrets on the design concept of each festival’s unique wristbands, many can get to the festival and copy the item, “giving them a 24 or 48 hour turnaround time,” according to Walker. Further complicating the issue is the international spread of the problem. While most production occurs in the UK, other countries from Austria to China are involved in the racket. And while the sale of these fake wristbands doesn’t impact organizers, Walker said the fans that support the festivals are seeing every bit of the negatives.

“If you have many thousands of people turned away when they have paid £100, £150 or £200, that is where the danger lies,” Walker said.

Officials say the wristbands are nearly perfect and are usually sold by scam websites that push non-festival events and parties, places most festival-goes should avoid. The counterfeits also come with a host of other issues organizers and law enforcement officials are trying to deal with, including illicit drugs and pickpockets. The issue, though, lies with each organizer working together regardless of the often fierce competition.

“We are rivals when it comes to trying to get bands,” said Colin Roger, an organizer of Scotland’s T in the Park festival. “But we are not rivals in keeping our industry safe and our customers safe.”


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