Tell-tale signs of a traffic ticket scam: Internet Scambusters #1,090
Traffic ticket scams have probably been going on for almost as long as tickets have been issued.
But modern technology has made the fraud easier than ever to commit and fraudulent citations look more authentic than ever.
In this week's issue, we'll explain how the scammers operate and how to spot that all may not be as it seems.
Let's get started…
Slow Down! That Traffic Ticket May Be A Fake
Did you get an email with a traffic ticket attached? If so, it's almost certainly a scam - because citations usually aren't sent out that way.
Think about it. How did the issuer - usually local law enforcement - get your email address?
But this is just one of the ways that fraudsters are raking in millions of dollars every year by sending out fake citations both for traffic and parking offenses.
Sometimes, a bogus ticket is placed under windshield wipers. Others arrive by regular snail mail - the normal way genuine ones are sent. Sometimes, they even include photos of your license plate.
With modern technology, it's all so easy to do. You can even download fake traffic violation notice templates from the Internet.
No surprise then that the crime is rocketing. Nationwide, there are no detailed statistics, but the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators was reported in 2019 as saying these scams were rising by as much as 40% a year.
A survey in New York City showed over 200,000 bogus parking ticket scams were sent to residents annually, resulting in estimated losses of around $2 million. And a consumer survey reported by CNN in 2020 found that one in seven drivers said they'd received notices for traffic violations they did not commit and 7% of those said they paid the bogus fines.
So, chances are high that if you haven't already received a fake traffic notice, you will one day.
Main Fake Traffic Ticket Tactics
Research shows that, although fraudulent notices are often sent out at random, crooks also specifically target the elderly, immigrants (because of language barriers), tourists (who don't know local traffic rules), and people with past traffic offenses.
The scams work because the notices often appear legit, using real logos and cloned official websites.
Sometimes, the notices contain a quick response (QR) code - those familiar squares of dots, blobs, and spaces. Motorists who scan them are taken directly to the fake sites where they're told to pay by an untraceable method.
Other times, credit card payments may be requested and then card details used for identity theft.
The crooks usually set a tight deadline, playing on people's fears of ignoring tickets, and sometimes follow up the supposed ticket with phone calls that seem to make the incident more realistic.
Avoiding Fake Ticket Scams
Slow down! Not just on the highway but in your reaction to receiving a ticket. As we said, if the notification arrives by email - or, these days, SMS text - it's almost certainly a scam. Sometimes, too, they seem to come from an authority that's not usually responsible for issuing them - like your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Other actions you can take to spot a scam or avoid becoming a victim include:
- Carefully examine the notice, whether the details are correct in terms of where and when the incident supposedly happened and whether the vehicle information is correct. Also, are other details like sender addresses correct? Read the small print.
- Look for curious wording and bad spelling in the notification. For example, an opening that starts with vague wording like "Dear driver."
- Be wary of short payment deadlines: A deadline of just a few days is often a sign of a scam. Most jurisdictions allow 20 days or more to pay a real ticket.
- Look up the ticket number online: Many traffic authorities include violation numbers on public case records that can be searched.
- Call the clerk or traffic court or the issuing police department: Before paying, contact the court listed on the ticket to confirm it is legitimate. But don't call any phone number listed on the ticket itself. Look it up!
- Don't scan codes on tickets or click on links in emails. Sometimes, instead of taking you to a fake website, they may infect your computer with malware.
- Check whether the supposed fine lines up with official penalties. In scams, they're likely to be higher.
- Watch for untraceable payment methods like prepaid cards, cryptocurrency, and gift cards. Jurisdictions don't use these.
- Never give a caller financial or personal details even if they claim to be with a traffic authority.
- Don't panic! That's what the fraudsters want you to do, sometimes threatening to revoke your driver's license or even claiming it has already been revoked (something you can easily check with your DMV).
Remember too that many of these tips apply to fake parking tickets as well as supposed traffic violations, The crooks are out combing streets for potential victims right now.
If you get a fake traffic or parking ticket, don't just toss it. Contact police and traffic authorities with details on any scams to help warn others. And if you're in any doubt, get professional legal help.
This Week's Alerts
Junk fee crackdown: After receiving 12,000 comments from consumers about junk fees that crop up on all manner of bills - hidden charges from TV services to hotel fees - the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is planning a new set of regulations to stop what they call "a deceptive and unfair trade practice." Watch this space.
Banks targeted too: Another government agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), is cracking down on banks hoarding customer data and preventing it from being shared with competitors who might offer better deals.
Cost of elder scams: Older Americans lost more than $1.6 billion to scammers last year, up from about $1 billion in 2021, the FTC reports. A quarter of that was lost in investment scams, notably cryptocurrency fraud. Business impostor scams, particularly pretending to be from Amazon, and romance scams also figured highly in an FTC report to Congress.
Package delivery: As we head toward the holiday season, when many of us are expecting package deliveries, scammers have stepped up their fake text notification, seeming to come from USPS, saying there's a parcel waiting for you, but they need your full address. Clicking on the included link leads to theft of personal information.
USPS does not send texts or emails to customers unless they've registered to receive this type of communication. And their messages never contain a clickable link.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!