You saw the headline and assumed this was a joke, right? Well it isn’t. You’ve got to give scammers credit for thinking up something like parking ticket scams and carrying it out.
Parking ticket scams apparently began, as many big dreams do, in New York City. And if it can make it there, it can make it anywhere. After all, this is the city where an average of two tourists a week used to buy the Brooklyn Bridge over a century ago.
They already became a big headache in the Big Apple by 2010, but the precedent was established long before by other vehicle-related frauds.
One veteran rip-off, for example, is the towing scam, which especially targets tourists with out-of-state licence plates. You park your car in a lot for a specific amount of time but show up a few minutes late only to discover that it’s not there. A breakdown lorry moved it a few minutes earlier and you’re now being expected to pay what seems like an exorbitant amount to remove the wheel clamp plus another exorbitant amount for the towing and storage fee. The law, unbeknownst to you, limits those fees to $62.50 and $125 respectively. You don’t know that, however, because you’re from out of town, and the unethical breakdown lorry driver knows it.
Parking Ticket Malware
The parking ticket scam is a variation on the theme that uses technology much more advanced than a breakdown lorry’s hook or chain. In 2015 phony parking tickets with embedded malware were first detected in emails ostensibly sent by the New York City Department of Finance. Parking fines sound ominous, so you open the email, but as soon as you do, it uploads malware to your computer.
The malware takes one of two forms. One version allows the scammers to steal your personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers, for the purposes of committing identity theft. When your next credit card or bank statement arrives, you’ll find unauthorised charges or withdrawals. Notify your credit card company or bank immediately. In the United States you will not be held responsible for any unauthorised credit or debit card charges exceeding $50 as long as you notify the bank with due haste. Similar limits may apply to unauthorised withdrawals from bank accounts, but those vary according to national regulations and legislation.
A second version of the parking ticket malware locks your computer and prevents you from using it until you pay a ransom. In that case, you either pay it or buy a new computer, preferably one uploaded with malware protection.
Since then, fake parking tickets emailed with embedded malware have now spread throughout the United States.
Low-Tech Parking Ticket Scams
Parking ticket scams, however, don’t require any specialised equipment or technology. All they need is a telephone. In 2014 parking ticket scams began to appear in Illinois, especially in the Chicago area, where victims were contacted at first by phone. That option remains popular with scammers even today. In 2020 residents of Lancaster, Pennsylvania reported that a man was calling them and demanding payment for unpaid parking tickets and at least one phony parking ticket was found by a car owner on his windshield at the University of California at Davis.
But the most brazen permutation was in 2016, when fake Chicago meter maids were caught on surveillance cameras filling out fake $60 parking tickets and leaving them on window shields.
Also in 2016, the parking ticket scam arrived in the nation’s capital. In May of that year, the Department of Motor Vehicles of the District of Columbia warned drivers to be aware of a phishing scam to collect money from past due parking tickets. Drivers randomly receive an email supposedly issued by the ‘DC Parking Authority’ (which doesn’t exist) that has ‘Notice of Overdue Parking Violation(s)’ in the subject line. The email informs them that they supposedly have fines that are past due and, if they don’t pay them immediately, their vehicle will be impounded. They are directed to a phony website that enables them to pay by credit card.
Additional parking scam venues have been reported throughout New Jersey.
International Parking Ticket Scams
Variations of parking ticket scams have also been reported in cities as far apart as Melbourne, Australia and Dryden, in the Canadian province of Ontario and Shanghai, China. In Melbourne, the fake emails are supposedly sent by Global Parking Solutions and carry the logo of Impark, a Canadian parking management company. In China, where bills are commonly paid using smartphone apps, fake tickets are printed with a QR code that links to a private account on WeChat Pay, a popular Chinese online payment system. The scam has become so successful that the police will now only issue traffic tickets with QR codes in person directly to the driver. And in 2020 motorists throughout Britain reported receiving official-looking but forged emails requesting the immediate payment for non-existent unpaid parking fines in order to avoid penalties.
A variation on the theme involves fake parking attendants posing as traffic wardens. These scammers approach drivers who are parking their cars on the street and inform them that they have to pay some sort of additional fee. The scammer then instructs the driver to pay by swiping a credit card through what looks like a hand-held terminal. But it’s not. It’s really a scanner that reads the victim’s credit card details.
Fake traffic wardens wearing fake uniforms were reported to have written fake parking tickets in Wales in 2019. In this case, drivers were sent to a parking meter to pay a supposedly discounted fine by credit card. They inserted their card and entered the PIN number, but their card got stuck. After the victim had given up and left, the scammers then came back to their machine and walked away with both the card and the PIN number, and started spending.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a parking ticket scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.