Don’t Be a Scam Mark When You Park

Photo credit: iStock/AndreyPopov

There are many routes to a ripoff, including several schemes that can occur when you park your car:

Fake fines. A longtime ruse, phony parking tickets have resurged in recent months. The “classic” con involves windshield-left violations that appear authentic. Thanks to inexpensive hand-held printers, scammers can produce on-the-spot thermal printouts that look like actual tickets produced by police-used machinery, either standalones or placed in brightly colored envelopes, purchased online, like those used by some law enforcement. Motorists who receive these phony tickets are usually directed to pay the fine at scammer-run websites that also appear authentic, where sensitive personal information including bank account details may be solicited. These websites could also harbor malware.

Joining these schemes is the latest ruse: Bogus emails received by residents in several states that falsely claim a newly issued or past-due parking or traffic violations. Usually spoofed to appear to come from a local police department or state DMV, this conning correspondence demands personal information, payment (often by credit card or prepaid debit card) and can include links or attachments that “direct unsuspecting users to a malicious download that may expose your computer to a virus,” warns the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Before paying a parking ticket, verify its legitimacy by contacting the issuing agency – either calling or looking up its website yourself; don’t rely on what’s printed on tickets, and be suspicious of any website that doesn’t end in .gov or .org. Police don’t email citations (or news about them), so don’t risk malware by clicking on links or attachments.

Parking lot posers. It can cost a small fortune to park in the official lot of a stadium or other event venue, and that’s what helps those guys who eagerly direct you to a nearby lot to park at a fraction of the price. Some are legitimate, but others are there to collect your upfront payment, point you to a space, and then hit the road. Problem is you may not know the difference until after that ballgame or concert to find your vehicle gone. Reason: The parking lot poser took the money and ran – and the lot’s real owner called a towing company. If you don’t want to spring for “official” parking in designated venue-owned lots, ensure surrounding lots have signs of legitimacy – such as booths, uniformed attendants and real signs noting the name and phone number of the company versus “Park Here” painted on plywood.

Car rescue and repair ripoffs. Stranded in a parking lot? Before relying on the kindness of strangers, make sure a help-offering Good Samaritan isn’t angling for a quick payment to “fix” a problem he caused. Such malevolent mechanics typically wait in parking lots, looking for their top targets – women in their 70s and those whose vehicles have out-of-state license plates. After their prey parks, they disable vehicles by deflating tires or disconnecting wire or cables after popping the hood of older or unlocked vehicles…then offer help when their mark returns. Advice: Before accepting assistance, politely inform parking lot helpers that while you appreciate any assistance they can provide, you cannot pay for their services. The crooks will likely drive off, and if you’re not a member of AAA, realize that police can lend a hand, and many auto insurers and vehicle manufacturers (especially for newer models) offer emergency roadside assistance.

Home heists help. Parking lots at movie theaters and shopping malls can help burglars pull off a successful heist. How? After waiting until a car’s occupants go inside, they can break into cars specifically to get addresses from vehicle registrations and auto insurance cards. Knowing they at least a two-hour window of opportunity (at least for movie-goers), these crooks then drive off to burglarize the victims’ homes. Although this isn’t how most home burglaries occur, it does happen. To prevent potential problems, keep your address-revealing documents and GPS in a locked glove compartment, hidden under a seat or truck wheel well, or carry these items with you.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

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