CHICAGO — A California woman who allegedly duped consumers online with a string of fake food festivals and other events in the Chicago area is being sued by the Illinois attorney general's office.
Kristen Yvette Martin, of Oakland, promoted fake taco, bacon and crab fests on social media, selling hundreds of tickets for those and other nonevents over the past two years, scamming customers out of more than $30,000, according to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court.
Some of the events were advertised to take place in seemingly random places, such as downtown office buildings or restaurants, and in some cases, no address was given at all, according to the lawsuit. None of the scheduled events ever took place, the lawsuit alleges.
"Scammers' outrageous ideas never cease to amaze me," Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a news release. "I filed my lawsuit to put an end to the promotion of these fake events and prevent Illinoisans from losing their money."
Martin could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Operating under a variety of aliases and assumed business names, including Expo Network and Fanoomies, Martin advertised the events on Facebook and other social media sites, with ticket sales running through online platforms including Chicago-based Groupon, Active Network and Shopify, according to the lawsuit.
Taco Fest, which was scheduled for June 9 in Chicago, was one of the more recent of the fake events in Illinois. Consumers who paid between $25 and $80 per ticket received email confirmations -- and charges on their credit cards -- but became suspicious when no location for the event was provided, the lawsuit says.
Some consumers received credits, while others were unable to get a refund, according to the lawsuit.
Nicole Rauer, 40, an ad agency art director who lives in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, bought two tickets to Taco Fest for herself and her husband after seeing the event on Facebook, she said in an interview. She paid with a credit card and was told the tickets would arrive by mail. They didn't, and she began to get suspicious.
"I love tacos. That was my first weakness," said Rauer, whose testimony was included in the lawsuit.
The Taco Fest promoted all-you-can-eat tacos, a margarita-making competition and other events.
Rauer said she was "distracted" by the Facebook page and the appealing idea of the summer festival, blinding her to the lack of details, such as the location, which was listed simply as Randolph Street, with no specific address.
After trying unsuccessfully to reach the promoter, she contacted her credit card company, which issued a refund for the tickets.
"It looked like a super fun festival," she said. "I got duped."
Another alleged fake event was Crab Fest, which was supposed to take place at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake on Aug. 19, 2017. About 200 people bought tickets to the event, paying between $39 and $99 per ticket, the lawsuit says.
Martin paid a deposit fee but never followed through with the permitting process, and the event was canceled by the fairgrounds, the lawsuit says. The event morphed online into the "World Famous Crab N' Beer Fest" to be held in downtown Chicago, but neither event took place, according to the lawsuit.
Other fake festivals included a "Hot Garlic Crab Feed," allegedly advertised as being held in January 2017 at 1 S. Dearborn St., a downtown Chicago office building that also houses a Rosebud restaurant. The "Chicago Bacon and Beer Fest" was promoted for the following January at 980 N. Michigan Ave., an office building that also houses the Spiaggia restaurant.
Neither event took place, the lawsuit alleges.
Most recently, a "Skull Run" was advertised as taking place in downtown Chicago on Oct. 7 -- the same day as the Chicago Marathon. Dozens of consumers paid $50 each to participate in the fake run, the lawsuit says.
Martin has promoted similar fake events across the country since 2013, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent Martin from promoting such future fictitious events in Illinois and to impose a penalty of $50,000 for each deceptive act and an additional $50,000 for each act committed with the intent to defraud.