It was supposed to be the first Stanley Cup playoff game that Pamela Niska and her husband had ever attended.
But after they excitedly entered Xcel Energy Center on Friday just before the Wild played Game 4, the Edina couple found themselves standing next to another couple holding identical tickets — same section, same row, same seats.
They thought they had scored a deal on Craigslist: two tickets for $350. The seller, however, had done the same thing to at least two other couples and was about $1,300 richer.
Red flags were ignored
"There were little red flags up, but in my haste and excitement, I didn't think," Niska said. "We really don't want this to happen to anyone else."
When the NHL team returns home after Sunday's game in Chicago, police are warning fans to be extra alert to potential scams as they pay ever-increasing prices for Game 6 Tuesday in St. Paul.
"It's probably worse in the playoffs," St. Paul Police Cmdr. Steve Frazer said. "But it does happen, dare I say, every game. It's a dangerous proposition to hand off cash to some guy on the street."
John Maher, vice president of communications for the Wild, said single-game tickets are sold out for Tuesday except for some tickets that will be released then, but he doesn't recommend fans buying tickets on the street.
"We are definitely seeing a greater demand," Maher said. "With that demand has come the opportunity for there to be counterfeit tickets."
For Niska, the warning signs are clear now.
Hours before Friday's game, she wanted to treat her husband to tickets for his birthday. She saw a Craigslist post by someone named Mike, asking for $175 per ticket. It listed a Florida-based cell number and asked for no e-mails. The couple met the man near the arena and handed over cash.
The scenario played out the same for Zach Hessian of Maple Grove, who ended up at the ticket counter next to Niska with the same tickets — all invalid.
"It was a shock," he said. "We couldn't have been the only people; he had to be doing it all afternoon."
In fact, they ran into two other couples outside the arena with the same invalid tickets they'd bought from the same man.
They reported the scam to police and Xcel Energy Center officials. But as of Saturday, no arrest had been made.
A tough crime to track
Frazer said police are investigating, but scammers leave few traceable details.
"It's definitely eye-opening," Hessian said, adding that he's used Craigslist before without any problem. "It definitely makes me rethink using it, especially during the playoffs."
The group made the best of it: The new friends watched Friday's game from a bar.
"Hockey is in our blood," Niska said. Her husband is a former high school hockey player, and she's a native of the Iron Range. "It's the Wild — and it's the Cup."