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Fake tickets spike: the result of sky-high fares?

Alongside class A drugs and AK-47s, the latest trending product of the Dark Web iw attracting eager customers from all ends of the country and is something far from sinister – counterfeit train tickets. And their popularity is booming.

Perhaps somewhat anticipated by regular train-goers, many of whom complain of inflating rail fares, forged train tickets have now become readily available to those clued up enough to find them – and for a mere fraction of the cost of the genuine article, a recent BBC investigation reveals. This has led to the absurd situation we find ourselves in where the Dark Web is more readily frequented by commuters than criminals.

The tickets cannot work in ticket machines, but the as-yet unnamed group producing them advertise that ticket barrier officers will accept them without a second look, as confirmed by the BBC investigators who managed to evade the suspicions of the officers and gain access through the barriers an impressive 12 times.

While many passengers have flocked to the Dark Web to purchase the tickets via the virtual currency Bitcoin, there is likely to be considerable action taken against the ticket as well as the group providing them, whose identity the BBC have withheld. Indeed, rail fraud investigator Mike Keeber has alluded that ticket officers may soon be able to easily distinguish between the counterfeits and the real deal. While Keeber admits that the copies are very convincing, he points out that “there’s something on there that shouldn’t be on there” – suggesting they may not be as fool-proof as the fraudsters claim.

Train companies have a long history dealing effectively with incidents involving counterfeit tickets, one businessman having been caught out in 2010 and forced to pay back over £17,000 after complex counterfeiting equipment was found in his home.

But while the counterfeiters have been slandered by train companies, some passengers have heralded them a ‘Robin Hood’ group, offering the opportunity for affordable rail fares in the face of ceaseless fare increases.

Many argue that the rail companies make profitability their main concern while rail operation is treated as an inconvenient afterthought.

This counterfeit scandal comes only a few short months after plans to increase regulated rail fares by 1.9 per cent, to which the Trades Union Congress general secretary, Frances O’Grady, responded: “Rail passengers are paying more and getting even less. Fares go up while trains remain overcrowded, stations are unstaffed, and rail companies cut the guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely. Enough is enough. It’s time for rail services to be publicly owned, saving money for passengers and taxpayers alike”. The real concern is no longer whether the tickets are poor value, but rather that they will soon be totally unaffordable for the average passenger – a daunting prospect, considering that train travel is the only feasible form of transport for many commuters into London and other big cities.

While the debate is far from over, there will no doubt be more instances like this before a common agreement is eventually reached. Perhaps with counterfeiting emerging on such a monumental scale as to attract customers from all over the country, this will finally bring some much-needed communication between the two groups.

Of course any dealings with counterfeit tickets is categorically unethical, and will no doubt cause hassle not only for the service providers but also fellow passengers who pay for a service that rail companies may not be able to continue to provide if customers continue to outsource tickets. For the first time in a long time, rail companies will be forced to respond to the long-running demand for more affordable fares. Perhaps now, in lieu of all the havoc that the current system has brought about, a middle ground can finally be reached.

Image: Geralt

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