If your favorite college football team has qualified to play in one of the seemingly dozens of bowl games, be careful before you lay out your hard-earned money for a trip to attend the post-season matchup.

"Fraudulent ticket offers appear on a number of websites, including Craigslist, and in classified ads," said Janet Jenkins, Administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. "Fans should only buy tickets from people or businesses they know or have checked out thoroughly." Otherwise,  she says, travelers might end up watching the game on TV from their homes, or arriveat the game to find they have no tickets and no place to stay.

History a guide

That's happened before. In 1994, nearly 10,000 University of Wisconsin Badger fans were taken in by a Rose Bowl ticket scam. The large Wisconsin contingent learned of their bogus tickets after making the long trip to California and never made it to the game.

"Before hopping a plane for the upcoming Rose Bowl, or any bowl game, have the official game tickets in your procession," added Jenkins. "Scam artists can easily replicate tickets, so consumers need to do their homework to confirm their legitimacy."

Caution the key

Jenkins offers these tips to avoid becoming a fraud victim:

  • Ask the seller to e-mail or fax you a copy of the actual tickets before making a payment. Make sure the ticket information includes the correct date, time; location; and seating details.
  • If you purchase a package, contact the airline and hotel directly to make certain that you have legitimate reservations.
  • Do not give out your credit card number -- online or over the phone -- unless you are sure the seller is legitimate.
  • Use a credit card rather than cash, check or debit card to purchase tickets since it may provide some protection if you do not receive the tickets or there is no room at the inn where you thought you had a reservation.
  • Contact your local consumer protection agency to determine if complaints have been filed against the business with which you are thinking of doing business.
  • Try to deal with "official" sources for tickets such as those endorsed by the university or those that are members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers. The businesses carefully screen ticket offers and take care of other measures to protect consumers from ticket fraud.
  • Verify that any travel agent with whom you are dealing is a member of a recognized trade association, such as the American Society of Travel Agents.

Refund terms

Some sellers promise a refund on pre-purchased tickets if the team is invited to another post-season competition. In this case, make sure to keep a copy of the return policy and hang on to the receipt.

However, even when sellers refund the ticket price, some consumers still lose money on hotel and airline reservations. To prevent this from happening to you, consider getting trip insurance.

Jenkins says watching a bowl game could be a once in a lifetime event for those who are going. "Don't ruin it," she advises, "by failing to cross the 'Ts' and dot the 'Is' ahead of time."