Cultural Trust Defends Against 'Hamilton' Ticket Buying Bots

Nov 6, 2018

When the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced it would bring the smash hit musical "Hamilton" to the Benedum Center, leadership knew they were in for the biggest sale in their history. But they also knew that Hamilton tickets were among the most lucrative for scalpers: according to the New York Times, resale prices for Hamilton tickets can climb up to $10,090.

Scalping is nothing new – in 1860, scalpers resold $5 tickets to Charles Dickens’ second American tour for $50 – but computer programs are now replacing human beings as the primary ticket buyers for resale.

Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Jason Hong said scalpers use bots called screen scrapers, which imitate human buyers on online purchasing platforms.

“[Screen scrapers] look at the web page that’s returned to you, figure out where the buttons are, and just sort of pretend to poke those buttons,” Hong said. “Sometimes these are known as monkeys too, because it’s just like the little animals that are poking these screens.”

To protect against screen scrapers, the Cultural Trust is requiring buyers to create an online account and provide information that authenticates their humanity, said Communications Director Robin Elrod.

“This includes a home address, a phone number, credit card information. [We’re] just making sure that everything is ready for that process when tickets on sale,” Elrod said.  

The Cultural Trust is also limiting ticket purchases to four per account. They plan to follow up on what they perceive to be bot purchases, and void them accordingly.