Don’t Get Hijacked by These Rest Area Scams

How rest area tricksters fool their victims: Internet Scambusters #497

They’re supposed to be there to give you respite from the
road, but rest area stops are also a magnet for con artists.

From panhandlers and phony auto mechanics to card sharks, they
lurk in these “captive” parking lots ready to jump weary
travelers and other unsuspecting victims.

This week, we outline the three top rest area scams to be on
the lookout for, with some simple but sound advice on how to
steer clear of them.

As always, we also recommend you check out the most popular
articles from our other sites during the past week:

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Eat Healthy — and Save Money Anyway, Part II: You won’t have to go broke pursuing your quest to eat healthy with these new ideas in part 2 of this article.

What Causes Baby Acne — And How to Treat It: Baby acne can be unpleasant but reading about these causes and cures will help new parents relax.

The Connection Between Smoking and High Blood Pressure: If you’re wondering if there’s a relationship between smoking and high blood pressure then read on to find out more.

Let’s check out today’s…

Don’t Get Hijacked by These Rest Area Scams

When you pull into a rest area, it’s usually for a well-earned
moment of relaxation — or an urgent restroom break.

Either way, the last thing you want is an interruption from
someone who’s after your money.

But, increasingly that’s the risk we face at rest areas,
despite efforts by law enforcement or security guards to stop
the scammers.

And, with the vacation season in full swing, the crooks are
out in full force on the lookout for likely victims.

Whatever your reason for traveling, here are the main scams to
look out for when you’re visiting a rest area.

Rest Area Panhandlers

They come in all sorts of guises, from the familiar guy (or
gal) with a cardboard sign pleading for money to scammers
claiming they ran out of fuel or their car broke down and they
need money urgently to buy fuel or a ticket home.

They might have a “prop,” like a fuel can, or have the hood of
their car raised to make the story seem more plausible, but
you can be 99% sure it’s a trick.

For one thing, people with signs just asking outright for
money almost certainly would have had to reach the rest area
by car.

You will usually see a vehicle right at the end, in the final
slot of the parking area. Often, there’ll be another person in
the car, since panhandlers like this are well organized and
work in shifts.

And if you offer to buy something for them from a vending
machine, they will usually shun the offer, saying they prefer

Action: Although there may be an outside chance that someone’s
need is genuine, realize that this is very, very unlikely.

Keep your hands and your wallet in your pocket.

Rest Area Auto Repair Scam

This is a common trick in all kinds of parking situations, and
we’ve written about it before in our article, Parking Lot Scam Alert! Crooks on Patrol for Victims.

What makes it particularly effective in a rest area is that,
if you’re on a freeway, you’re almost a “captive.” You can’t
just walk away and up the street to get help.

The scammers normally make up a story about seeing smoke or
oil leaking from your car, but they have been known to slash
tires while the driver visits a restroom.

Whatever the story, they usually claim either to be an auto
engineer who just happens to be passing through, or a “good
Samaritan” who will help change your wheel — for a fee.

Sometimes, they pose as body repair specialists, offering to
fix dents and scratches while you take a break.

They may want payment upfront, in which case don’t expect them
to be there when you return to your vehicle.

Or they might just be rank amateurs, do a botched job and then
threaten you when you refuse to pay.

On other occasions, they may simply wash your car windshield
while you’re in the restroom and demand payment when you


  • Park your auto in a busy area, around other cars.

  • Refuse any offers to do work of any sort on your vehicle.

  • If the car is disabled in some way, phone for assistance;
    don’t accept proffered help.

  • If you are physically threatened, look for security help in
    the rest area. Otherwise, pay up and then report the incident
    to the police, with a good description of the scammer.

The Rest Area “Three-Card Monte”

It’s remarkable that this ancient card-switching scam shows up
so often in a rest area or truck stop, where you probably
wouldn’t expect to see it.

Victims are shown three cards, one of which is the target card
— for example, the Queen of Spades.

The cards are placed face down on a table and moved around,
while the victim is supposed to keep track of the target card.
If they correctly identify it when the shuffle is complete,
they win.

But, of course, that never happens because the scammer is a
crook, using sleight of hand to deceive observers.

The most common ploy to lure victims into the game is a claim
that someone has won a lot of money, usually on a lottery, is
now drunk, and is virtually giving money away to anyone who
will play cards with them.

These scammers work in gangs of four or more — one being the
card-switching expert and the others hustlers who both recruit
players and pose as lucky winners themselves.

Sometimes, they pretend to be janitors or security officials
at the rest area, to make their story seem more credible. Or
they may claim to be truckers, celebrating their pal’s good

Whatever the tale, victims are first treated to watching
others (really accomplices) win large sums of money; then
they’re invited to play, maybe winning at first but always
doubling up until they lose a lot of money.

Action: Card playing in rest areas and parking lots is for
mugs. Don’t do it — no matter how plausible the story and how
excited everyone else seems to be about it.

A Likely Hoax

An email story has been doing the rounds for the last couple
of years, claiming that a woman carrying a baby has been
scamming rest area drivers.

According to this story, she rushes up to solo victims,
apparently distraught, and asks them to hold her baby for a

Then, while the victim’s hands are thus occupied, she proceeds
to empty their pockets and runs off, leaving the victim
literally holding the baby.

Police are called, the baby is collected and somehow returned
to its mother, without her being arrested, and the whole cycle
begins again.

This is a highly implausible story and there’s no evidence
anything like it has ever happened.

Better keep your guard up for the more likely kind of rest
area scams we’ve warned you about in this report!

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.