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Parking Lot Scams

Everyone has heard stories about unsuspecting victims who have been taken for hundreds or even thousands of dollars by crooks pretending to be IRS agents collecting overdue taxes or wealthy Nigerian businessmen willing to share their fortunes with anyone who will help them get their money into the United States. Having less and less success with a wiser public, some crooks are resorting to scamming in places you might least expect – parking lots!

It’s Not Okay to Ignore That “No Parking” Sign

Imagine that you’ve been looking for a parking space for an hour, and you’re desperate to find a spot so that you can make it to the stadium before the opening kickoff. Then a miracle happens. Right in front of your eyes, a guy displays a sign that says, “Event Parking $20”, and waves you and a dozen other cars into an empty parking lot. You sigh with relief, give the guy a $20 bill and pull in– even though there are signs everywhere that say “Parking for XYZ Company Only – Violators Will Be Towed”. You head off to the game, and when you return you find out that your car is gone. That’s because XYZ Company doesn’t rent out their lot for sporting events, and they had all of your vehicles towed because they had no place for their customers to park. And what about that “parking lot attendant” who took your money? He disappeared long ago.

Safety Tip: Avoid parking lots that advertise with handwritten signs. Stick to ones that have ticket dispensers, gates, or permanent fee schedules posted. And think twice about parking in an unfamiliar lot if you are asked to leave your car keys!

Look Carefully Before Paying that Parking Ticket

Here’s another interesting variation on the parking lot scam. Suppose you return to your car, only to find a ticket stuck on your windshield. If you have less than perfect parking habits, you might be inclined to pay it without question. But should you? It’s not uncommon for someone who has received a ticket because they parked illegally to put the citation on another car, hoping that the vehicle’s owner will not bother to check the plate number and will simply pay it.

Even more horrible is when scammers forge phony tickets that instruct you to pay the fine online via credit card. It’s an easy way to collect your credit card information, which they can later sell to thieves.

Safety Tip: If you find a parking ticket on your windshield, check the license plate number and make sure that it’s yours. If the license plate number is correct, you should also verify that the ticket itself is real. If you’re not sure, don’t call the number on the ticket – instead, look up the telephone number of the city’s parking authority and ask them to verify that it is a real ticket.

Careful Where You Buy Auto Insurance

The chutzpah of these criminals pales, however, to that of a man who sold fake automobile insurance from a parking lot. The Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DFIS) confirmed that an employee of an insurance agency told them that an individual had been selling automobile insurance after hours in their parking lot. Unfortunately, the individual was not their employee, was not licensed to sell insurance, and the “policies” that he sold weren’t even real. But thanks to the use of social media and photos that showed the office building of the “real” insurance agency in the background, he was able to do a thriving after-hours business in their parking lot until DFIS issued a Cease and Desist order against him.

Safety Tip: Deal only with a reputable licensed agent when purchasing insurance. Your state Insurance Department can verify whether or not yours is licensed and a long-standing presence in your community. And above all – never buy your insurance in a parking lot!