How Your Car Stickers Can Land You in Trouble

Car stickers can play a role in identity theft: Internet Scambusters #897

Car stickers seem innocent enough, don’t they?

But they may not be, if they give others information about you or your kids.

We’ll tell you why in this week’s issue, along with news of a resurgence in another car painting scam.

Let’s get started…

How Your Car Stickers Can Land You in Trouble

Are you a car sticker person? Have you ever thought about how much information your choice of these decals might be giving away about you?

In these days when privacy protection is under so much scrutiny, we’re encouraged to close off as many avenues as possible to the data people collect about us and our lives.

That’s simply because the more someone knows about you, the easier it is to defraud others while hiding behind your identity.

But car bumper stickers as a source of info? Apparently so.

The issue came to light recently through a local public safety department in South Carolina. They warned that criminals can use them to garner all types of information about you and your family.

Examples might be stickers that connect you with the military, reveal your personal interests, even identify schools you or your kids attend, and even their gender. A pro-gun sticker might be taken to suggest you’re carrying a weapon in your car, making it a theft target.

Some people plaster their cars with so many stickers, it’s perfectly possible for a criminal to build up quite a picture of the individual that can then be used to befriend them or for identity theft.

A local TV station quoted a safety department spokesperson as saying that younger teens wanting to personalize their cars might be particularly vulnerable.

“Young teenage girls or teenagers, they want a personalized plate because it’s cool,” the spokesperson said.

“They want something that’s kind of cool, so if they put like their name on there or their initials on there, somebody that might be interested in them or interested in following them around, they can say ‘Hey Amy, guess what? I know you from someplace.'”

That can disarm the teen, opening the way for a conversation with someone whose motives might be dubious, to say the least.

The message is that if you’re a bumper sticker type, think carefully about what information you’re giving away when you post those decals. Jokey or generic types are best.

New Wrap Scam

Meanwhile one of the scams associated with car stickers has seen a resurgence in recent months.

This is the car wrap scam, which we’ve reported on previously.

Car wrapping is a genuine marketing activity. Vehicles are plastered with branding messages promoting products or a local service. Usually, however, the cars are actually owned by the firm using them, not by members of the general public.

But in the case of this trick, what looks like a car wrap program is actually an advance payment scam in disguise.

The crooks advertise online or send messages offering to pay car owners for allowing their autos to be decorated with a promotional message or brand identity. It sounds like a deal, an easy way to get money as long as you don’t mind your car being transformed into an advertisement on wheels!

But that won’t happen in this scam.

People who reply to the ads quickly get a check that’s supposed to cover their fee and the cost of the sticker or paint job. They’re supposed to bank the check, deduct their fee, and then wire the balance to the painter.

Of course, the wrapper is the scammer, who will get their money before the victim’s bank recognizes the check is a fake. So, the victim is left owing the bank for the amount of money they’ve withdrawn.

The scam has been around for years, with hundreds of reported victims. Now, it has re-emerged targeting students who are often hard-pressed for cash and will jump at any opportunity without giving it too much thought.

Often, the scammers use well-known brand names — Dr Pepper, Red Bull, and Monster Energy are particularly common in the latest round — to make victims think it’s a real deal.

In Rutherford County, Tennessee, recently students received emails inviting them to apply. When they did, they received a number of documents — contracts and so on — making it look like a serious and genuine deal, followed by the fake check.

The scammers pressed their victims to bank the check quickly and immediately pass the balance to the “wrapper.”

In another recent case, this time in Texas, a potential victim received a check for $3,650.

The scam was more barefaced than usual. The victim was to use the check to buy three $1,000 money orders and mail them to a specific address — and then to keep the balance of $650 for themselves.

If only it was that easy to make money! Only for the crook, it seems.

One site that collates information on car wrap scam victims reports that it has received almost 200 complaints. Fortunately, many of the targets recognized it was a scam before getting caught out.

As we always warn, you should never accept a check as an advance payment if it’s accompanied by a request for you to wire part of the sum to another party or to forward money orders or gift cards.

This is always, always, a scam. And, for the record, Dr Pepper and other big brand names don’t offer to pay regular drivers for allowing car stickers or repainting of their vehicles.

Alert of the Week

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched a new series of video blogs dealing with handling credit and obtaining and fixing your credit record.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!