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This is an exciting time of year for sports fans. Football season has just begun, hockey season is around the corner and the baseball playoffs begin next month. At the same time, busy sports fans have scheduling conflicts, and there will always be frugal fans on the sidelines hoping to get a good deal on the tickets on the secondary market, or just find any seat to a sold-out game.

Yet this secondary market for sports tickets can be a very dangerous place. Last year, the AARP estimated that nearly 5 million people paid for fake tickets to concerts, sporting events and theme parks. It’s as if thieves have found a way to print money.

Since it can be nearly impossible to distinguish these fake tickets from the real ones, how can fans protect themselves when buying on the secondary market. The key lies with their credit cards.

How a Credit Card Protects You

One of the reasons why credit cards can be beneficial to you when you encounter a problem like this is the Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974. This federal law prevents credit card holders from being fraudulently billed. The protections apply when your credit card numbers are stolen, but also when you are charged for goods or services that you didn’t receive — or if the goods weren’t delivered as promised (that can include fake tickets). It’s one more reason to make sure you keep your credit healthy. (It’s smart to know what’s in your credit report, and you can get your credit score for free from Credit.com.)

How to Buy Tickets Without Being Scammed

1. Always try to use your credit card. Any legitimate ticket broker should be able to accept your credit card. Not only will your charge be protected by the guarantee of the Fair Credit Billing Act, but anyone who is selling phony tickets could lose his or her ability to accept credit cards very quickly.

2. Use an intermediary service such as Ebay and/or PayPal. These companies accept credit cards, so your transaction will be covered. In addition, they offer their own feedback and dispute resolution systems to weed out scammers in the first place. On the other hand, transactions conducted with cash or checks with buyers you meet through online bulletin boards such as Craigslist leave you completely vulnerable.

3. Consider authorized resellers of tickets. Eager to participate in the secondary market, the sports leagues are now reselling tickets through their own authorized agents. Big companies such as Ticketmaster, TicketsNow, and StubHub are authorized to resell tickets online, and they accept credit cards. The downside is that these companies mark up tickets substantially, and add plenty of fees.

4. Buy tickets from your credit card company. If your problem is finding tickets to a sold-out event, your credit card issuer may be able to help. The major credit card networks offer access to tickets to sports and other entertainment events as a benefit to cardholders. For example, the Visa Signature program offers tickets and special access to the Golden State Warriors basketball team and the Houston Dynamo Major League Soccer team. Citi’s Private Pass program offers tickets to a variety of sporting events, and American Express offers sports tickets to cardholders through Ticketmaster.

5. Redeem credit card rewards toward sports tickets. Finally, there are some reward credit cards that allow you to earn tickets to your favorite events. For example, the NFL Extra Points credit card offers tickets to the regular season, the playoffs and even unique experiences that cannot be purchased. (See A Credit Card That Could Get You to the Super Bowl.)

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