Arizona runners signed up for a 5K fun race, but it turned out to be a scam
Phoenix resident Audra Araujo and her friends enjoy running in several themed 5K races a year.
So when they saw a "Day of the Dead" fun run scheduled for October in a Facebook ad, five of them bought the $20 tickets.
But soon they wondered if the race put on by a company called Fantasy and Fear was real.
Facebook event pages, where nearly 300 people in Arizona expressed interest in attending, kept changing names, from "Skull Run" to "Dragons and Skulls Run" to "Dragon, Zombies, Skulls Run."
Araujo thought it was odd the company would schedule races with the same theme within days of each other in Chandler, Mesa and Tucson, essentially forcing the events to compete for participants.
And the company didn't share basic information or answer questions as the event neared, Araujo said.
"I knew it," Araujo said when The Arizona Republic told her that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced Thursday that the running events were fake.
"I should have listened to my gut," she said.
The race itself was a fantasy
A Facebook page said the race was the "biggest fantasy run in the country."
Participants were encouraged to dress up as a zombie or "warrior prince/princess." The event would include live DJs, a post-race party, black lights, neon and "3D Fairies hidden in a lifelike enchanted forest with massive 4D video walls of fear," one description said.
"We welcome WILD, STRANGE, UNIQUE, CURIOUSLY costumed characters," a ticket page on www.etickets.com said. "The Dragon After Party is extreme featuring mesmerizing visual effects and stages of top music and cutting-edge production. ... (The race includes) 4 dragon and skull obstacles, 2 stargazing areas, 3 zombie infected chase areas and water stations."
Araujo said her group of friends originally felt confident the race was real since the company's website looked professional, the listed location was near Rawhide Western Town & Event Center and they purchased tickets through www.active.com, a leading website for running and sports event tickets.
"I thought they were legit," she said.
But the friends became suspicious after the event details kept changing. They wondered whether it was a new company that wasn't organized — or a scam.
Turns out it was the latter.
A fake all-you-can-eat buffet
The Attorney General's Office began investigating the company after a different event, called "Crab and Lobster Feast," left attendees with hungry stomachs.
That event in September was advertised online as an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with sides and drinks. Tickets on a site called www.etickets.com went for as much as $60 each.
But people who showed up to the event found an empty parking lot, the Attorney General's Office said.
A state investigation found the same people who advertised the hoax seafood buffet also sold tickets to the fun runs, the office said.
"What appears to be a fantasy is the idea that these races will ever occur," Brnovich said in a statement. "Consumers should beware of buying tickets for events from companies they've never heard of."
Araujo said she will dispute the ticket charge with her credit card company and will be more careful signing up for 5Ks in the future.
"We're probably not going to buy runs on Facebook anymore," she said.
Race tickets at www.etickets.com were disabled after media alerted the website, but admission was still available for $30 for runners and $95 for vendors at www.active.com a day after The Republic contacted the website warning of the scam.
More victims bought tickets
Merissa Rivera, 41, of Mesa, and two of her friends were duped into buying $25 "Skull Run" tickets in March.
They typically sign up for several races a year, but recently started questioning this one when they couldn't find details about the upcoming race.
"I wasn't 100 percent surprised (it was a scam), but my friend and I are just disappointed we have to be on the lookout for this kind of thing," Rivera said. "It's going to be in the back of my mind" when signing up for races in the future.
After The Republic informed her of the scam, Rivera checked her ticket confirmation email. It showed she purchased her ticket on https://theticketbrite.myshopify.com, which appears to be a spoof on the well-known ticket website www.eventbrite.com.
The confirmation was sent by a random email address, email@example.com, and a strange company name, Fanoomies, according to copies she provided The Republic.
Rivera's friend, Stephanie Witwicki, said nothing like this has ever happened to her, even though she participates in many races.
"It's really disheartening that there are so many criminals out there looking to make a few dollars by ripping people off," she said.
Rivera said she hopes websites will take stronger precautions when allowing companies to sell tickets. But she said fraudsters will always find a way.
"It's just one more way people are trying to scam you out of your money," she said.
Did you buy tickets? File a complaint
The Attorney General's Office recommends people who bought tickets to the races file complaints online at https://www.azag.gov/complaints/consumer or by calling 602-542-5763 in the Phoenix area, 520-628-6648 in the Tucson area or 800-352-8431 outside those metro areas.
Have you been scammed? Did a company treat you badly? I'm #HereToHelpAZ. Contact consumer investigations reporter Rebekah L. Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org, text HereToHelpAZ to 51555 or fill out our online form.
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