Parking Lot Scam Alert! Crooks on Patrol for Victims

Parking Lot Scams

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.

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 Bristol, England.

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 employer.

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 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 attendants.

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 you’re offered.

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 near them.

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 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 vehicle.

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 website.

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 lots:

  • 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 circumstances.
  • 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!