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Donít Get Too Crazy During March Madness

Garth Bruen, Friday, March 15, 2013

Between the buzzer-beating shots and bracket-busting upsets, it is easy to get caught up in NCAA men’s basketball tournament action and dismiss our better judgment.  However, I’d suggest that you consider these stats when making your picks: in less than a week's time, most the sixty-eight teams from all over the United States will travel across the nation to play in single-elimination games played over merely three weeks.  Those sound like the basics to the average fan, but the combination of the short time frame and the number of potential venues give online scam artists the opening for a possible "shining moment."  The tournament provides much opportunity for fraud and little chance for consumer verification.

Many fans put more than just their heart and soul into the game. Gambling on the Internet is taking more of chance than you might like. For example, the website marchmadnessaction.com boasts “All USA Players Welcome,” but are you really? While online gaming is legal, it is illegal under the Federal Wire Act to transfer gambling monies. So you can play, but you can’t count on collecting your winnings.  Even if this online betting service is legitimate there is no guarantee your winnings will be delivered.

Internet gambling operators have been prosecuted in the U.S. and had their assets seized. In one infamous case, a U.K. citizen, BETonSports CEO David Carruthers, was arrested while connecting flights in the United States en route to Costa Rica. Carruthers may have made himself a target by not only running an online gambling operation but by being a vocal advocate for its legalization. The company’s founder, Gary Kaplan, was also arrested abroad and charged with tax evasion.  In February 2013, Canadian police arrested a member of the Hell’s Angels who was running an online gaming site and seized the website itself, PlatinumSB.com.  

And then there is the case of the previously mentioned marchmadnessaction.com. This website has in fact captured the second top search result on Google for “March Madness 2013” just above CBS Sports and immediately below the NCAA itself. This site offers the face of legitimacy and is done with the most expert online marketing sorcery.

If you click on the “Bet Now” button at marchmadnessaction.com it leads to a website in Latvia. There is no clear organizational disclosure on marchmadnessaction.com and their domain WHOIS information is concealed by a company called NameCheap.

The Latvian betting site may also be run from Costa Rica or Canada and is probably owned by a billionaire once named a People magazine “Hottest Bachelor.” The billionaire, Calvin Ayre, and his company have both been indicted in the United States.  

Is marchmadnessaction.com a scam? Not necessarily, but they are targeting Americans with no warning that it may be illegal and due to uncontrollable circumstances the sites may close with no payouts to the customer.  Remember, this was not found by a search for gambling, simply a search for the tournament.

So my tournament prediction – you’ll be safer if you stick to the office pool and never bet more than you can afford to lose.

One last note on Calvin Ayre - he claims he transferred ownership of the company and has “retired.” While has been indicted and Homeland Security seized all of Ayre's gambling websites that had U.S. business connections, he remains free in Canada. A spokeswoman for Ayre’s company told The Independent the indictment was “baseless” and company was doing “business as usual.” The effort to prosecute him has been criticized as an attempt by the U.S. to enforce Internet laws “anywhere.”  This is a perfect example of how complex it is to enforce the laws on our books and how ultimately, we have to educate ourselves on how to be safe and secure in the Internet Economy.

Those of your travelling with your team across America, online crooks look for frenzied fans like you when they put together travel scams and counterfeit game tickets. Protect yourself by:

  • Using a credit card and never wire transfers for booking hotel rooms;  
  • Verify with actual hotel employees that they do business with the third-party travel service you are using;
  • If you are going to buy tickets at an online community like Craigslist remember there are no refunds or guarantees.
  • Avoid packages that try to distract from the poor value by pumping up cheap freebees like programs, lanyards, hats, etc.
  • When conducting transactions for your packages, request detailed names, business entities, locations, and confirmation numbers. If the seller cannot provide this information do not complete it.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) website has a number of package deals and ticket sales venue which may help consumers avoid scams. Otherwise you might end up in a strange city with no hotel and no real tickets to the game, worst March Madness ever.

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