8 of the most common types of parking lot scam tricks — and how to spot them: Internet Scambusters #355
If you haven’t already been targeted in a parking lot scam,
chances are that you will be.
Whether they’re posing as parking attendants, auto mechanics
or accident victims, crooks have a whole line of tricks they
can pull as you park or exit.
In this issue, we’ve identified the 8 most common parking
scams you may encounter, with some useful tips on how to spot
and avoid them.
However, we encourage you to first take a look at this week’s
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Let’s get started…
Parking Lot Scam Alert! Crooks on Patrol for Victims
There’s a long-standing story, currently circulating on the
Internet, about a famous parking lot scam outside a zoo in
According to this tale, the lot attendant failed to show up
for work one day and the zoo contacted the city, believing
they employed the absentee. But the city said the zoo was the
Turned out that neither employed or knew the identity of the
attendant, who had turned up seven days a week for years to
collect about $10 a piece from zoo visitors as they parked
their autos, thereby pocketing a multi-million dollar fortune.
OK, time to fess up: It’s a great story but it’s not true –
though we’ll be surprised if it hasn’t popped into your inbox
in the past few months.
It’s like that other well-known hoax story about parking lot
scam artists who invite you to smell some “perfume” they’re
selling. Supposedly it’s really ether. You pass out and they
rob you. You can read more about the href="http://www.scambusters.org/urban-legends/perfume-hoax.html">perfume
hoax on our site.
But it prompted us to look more closely at the issue of
genuine parking lot scams, which gets our focus this week.
That’s because parking lots or car parks are among the most
common outdoor locations for scams. At some time in your
driving life you’re almost certain to encounter one of the
following common parking lots scams:
Phony parking lot attendant
Well, that Bristol story might not be true but there are
plenty of other parking lot scammers passing themselves off as
They come in a couple of guises:
You park in an unfamiliar place (especially when abroad) and
an “attendant” (maybe uniformed or not) approaches, demands a
parking fee and gives you some kind of ticket (sometimes an
expired one from a previous user).
You attend an outdoor function and get directed into what
appears to be a stand-by parking area that may be someone’s
driveway or the parking lot of a nearby business. You pay a
fee but may return to find your car has been towed, and the
“attendant” has disappeared.
Tip: Always try to use official car parks and look for signs
explaining fees and payment arrangements. Examine any ticket
Be careful of patrolling “attendants” — they are more likely
to be scammers than attendants who stay in the parking booth.
Bogus accident victims
You’re carefully backing out of your parking space. The coast
is clear but suddenly there’s a bump. Out of nowhere, another
auto or an individual managed to get right behind the trunk
and you seem to have clipped them.
They’ll either try to get compensation from you or the lot
owner, or use the “incident” to make an insurance claim. They
may even have an accomplice who claims to be a witness.
Tips: Fortunately, many larger parking lots now used closed
circuit TV which have been known to catch these parking lot
scam artists red-handed. Look out for cameras and try to park
Alternatively, if you’re in a busy lot and have a passenger,
have them stand guard as you back out.
We touched on this subject in an earlier issue when we also
highlighted another parking lot scam — the so-called href="http://www.scambusters.org/cardealer.html">white
van scam in which crooks sell poor quality items (or even
product boxes filled with rubbish).
Car rescue and repair scams
This parking lot scam usually targets older folks. There are a
couple of variations.
As you exit your car, the scammer approaches and tells you he
saw smoke or some other telltale sign of trouble with your
Of course, he claims he just happens to be an auto mechanic
and inspects the vehicle. He may even produce something as
evidence of the damage. But, lo and behold, he can fix it
right there for you — for a fee.
A more cunning ruse is when the scammer watches you leave your
vehicle then does something to disable it — typically
disconnecting the distributor.
When you return, the vehicle won’t start. Again, as he passes
by, he tells you he’s a mechanic and offers to fix it.
Tip: To avoid these parking scams, just don’t give in to
anyone who tells you he’s a mechanic in this situation. If
your car won’t start or someone tells you it’s in trouble,
contact a trusted mechanic or, if you’re a member, call AAA.
It’s just too much of a coincidence to believe that a mechanic
happens to be on hand — and they usually charge a fortune,
often several hundred dollars.
The phony parking ticket
You return to your car to discover you’ve been ticketed for
parking illegally or some other supposed infringement.
The ticket gives a website address where, if you visit, you
may fall victim to either financial and ID theft (you’re asked
to pay a fine by credit card) or a virus attack from the
Tip: Parking enforcement organizations don’t operate this way.
If your ticket didn’t come from the police, check out the
source with them before paying. Then, don’t pay online unless
you’re positive it’s the real local police site and double
check any payment address.
The vehicle wheel clamp
Common in Britain and some other European countries (as well
as some US cities), this is the equivalent of getting your
vehicle impounded and then having to pay to recover it.
In these places, it’s legal to place a clamp around one or
more wheels of a car if it’s illegally parked and then to
charge you to remove it.
Trouble is that unscrupulous clamping firms may even do this
when either they have no mandate to do so (like when the lot
or street is not their responsibility) or even when a vehicle
is parked legally.
Tip: If you get clamped and have to pay to be freed, make sure
you get the identity, phone number and other information about
the clamper, so you can pursue it with the police if you feel
the clamping was not justified.
But don’t get into an argument with the clampers. Remember,
they have the keys to your freedom!
Three more parking lot scams
In addition to the parking lot scams we’ve detailed above,
here, briefly, are three more tricks to be on the lookout for.
They happen in public places and often at or near parking
Transients claiming they ran out of gas and need money to
refuel to get home. May appear reasonably well dressed or have
children to make their scam more convincing. Unless you don’t
care where your money is going, don’t hand it over.
A variation of this: The scammer claims to be stranded and
offers to sell you a piece of worthless jewelry. A passer-by,
who’s really an accomplice, vouches for the value and
authenticity of the piece. Again, never buy in these
Crooks claiming to have found or inherited money they want
to share but ask you to give them money first as a sign of
good faith. They’re really looking for a sign that you’re a mug.
When you’re out and about, your mind may be on other things
beyond the possibility that there’s a crook there with you
offering to take your money, help you park or repair your auto.
Take the time to think through what is happening, don’t give
out personal information or part with money unless you’re sure
of who you’re dealing with. That way, hopefully, you’ll steer
clear of the parking lot scam — even at the zoo!
Time to conclude for today — have a great week!