Olympics-Australia says can't help in ticketing scam

BEIJING (Reuters) - Australia’s Olympic Committee offered sympathy but no solutions on Monday to scores of Australians who have lost money in an Internet ticketing scam.

The Australian press reported that some people had been swindled out of almost $45,000 after buying tickets for various Beijing Games events from unauthorised websites.

Many of the orders were placed months ago and the deception has only just come to light after the promised tickets failed to arrive in the post.

“Our sympathy goes to them ... but we certainly aren’t in a position to step in, compensate or find other tickets,” Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates said.

“We warned folk to only deal with authorised ticket suppliers,” he told a news conference.

Coates said that among those who had lost out were parents of some of the Australian athletes, the former opposition leader for New South Wales state and even an Olympic official.

While there was not much the committee could do, Coates said efforts were being made to “scrounge tickets” for relatives of some of the softball team who had succumbed to the scam.

“There is nothing at the moment. We are just waiting,” he said.

One of the sites quoted by the Australian media was still operating on Monday, offering seats for numerous events, including the Aug. 8 opening ceremony, with prices topping $2,150.

The professional-looking site provides a London phone number and a U.S. mailing address.

“We can’t be expected to go over the net and find the sites that are misleading. We just don’t have the ability,” Coates said, defending himself from suggestions his committee could have done more to warn of the dangers.

“We have at no time advised people to buy from offshore websites ... and we made it quite clear we are powerless to take action against an offshore operator,” he added.

Australians were allocated 31,000 tickets for the Beijing Games against just 19,000 at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but the extra seats proved insufficient for the sports mad nation.

Coates said people should now be careful about buying tickets on the e-Bay auction website.

“There may be tickets on eBay that are delivered ... but I think it is a great risk. That would be my message,” he said.

Australian Beach Volleyball competitor Natalie Cook said her heart went out to those who had lost out.

“It would be a nightmare. Accommodation here was tough and very expensive ... to spend all that time and effort to come and see children play. My parents would be distraught,” she said.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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