Sneaky Parking Lot Scams To Watch Out For

Who isn’t busy these days? As you drive near the parking space, the game starts. 

“I have no time for this.” – You say to yourself.

You pay to the closest attendant, find a spot, and walk into the building. Later you realize you may have paid a fake attendant money for free parking.

Are they common? Yes. Can’t businesses do anything about it? They can, but they can’t do it all the time. Is it a big deal? No. Losing a few bucks may not affect your finances.

There are other parking lot scam variations though and these could prove financially more harmful to your pocket.

What Are Parking Lot Scams?

Although parking lots are part of the business property, the owners have nothing to do with the scams happening there. One may deceive visitors as a fake ticket attendant, and the building owners may never notice.

Parking lot scammers will make you pay for no reason without a choice.

  • You must pay for the ticket because that’s how rules work here.
  • You must pay for the fine if you didn’t park well or didn’t buy the ticket.
  • You have no option other than listening to a friendly mechanic if your car is suspiciously disabled.

Of course, you won’t see it while spending long hours at the mall. What if we pointed the scene with a camera all the time?

You’d see strangers coming out of nowhere with police suits and opening ticket stands. You’d find people hiding among cars to cause fake accidents or break them when the driver is away.

How Parking Lot Scams Work

Unfortunately, real guards are too busy keeping control inside the building. But how do you differentiate a con man from a vigilant/assistant?

#1 Faulty clothing

Authority works with symbols. A police officer shows you a badge and wears a genuine uniform, so you instantly trust them (social order wouldn’t work otherwise). 

There’re three ways to fake it as a ticket seller:

  • Wear casual clothes (rarely happens)
  • Wear a generic uniform (almost always works)
  • Wear a real uniform (rarely happens)

People fall for confidence tricks too easily. They see someone with a uniform, they pay. They see a queue of drivers paying, and they pay.

If the officer refuses to prove their identity, don’t hesitate to question the parking fee.

#2 Consult the building owners

If you’re not satisfied or you think there’s a misunderstanding, you can still ask for information. At that moment, it may look like you must either pay or leave. Simply ask:

“Who is in charge of this place?”

“Who made that rule?”

As a 3rd party, parking assistants should let you talk to the building manager. A parking scammer won’t do it; they’ll come up with excuses instead.

“He’s not in the building right now.”

“He’s too busy for that.”

“Trust me and pay the amount. If it was a misunderstanding, I’d return you the money.”

You instantly recognize the scammer. They may also say: “Sure, he’s right there.”  They may give false directions.

If you do find the manager, by the time you talk about the issue, the scammer is ready to run away.

#3 Fake Fines

Whether you paid for the ticket or not, con men will put fines on your windshield. “You parked in an illegal area” and similar excuses.

You may think: if drivers think a fine is unfair, they’ll talk to the ticket assistant first. That’s why ticket scammers and fine scammers won’t appear on the scene together.

Learn more about authority imposter scams here.

Most of the time, the real assistant will know nothing about it. They’ll advise you to use the fine’s contact information to ask for an explanation.

What does the fine look like?

You have to pay ~$100 within 48h for parking illegally. You can only pay online via wire transfer on this site.

From here, you open yourself to payment scams and phishing schemes. If nobody in the lot knows where it came from, act as if it never happened.

If it’s genuine, they’ll follow up. You can always visit the police station to get rid of doubt.

#4 Friendly Mechanics

After spending hours at the building, you get into the car. You want to get at home and relax, but the car won’t turn on. Stuck?

Don’t worry. An over-helpful man will approach you. “It seems your car doesn’t work. I’m an expert at these. Let me help you.”

You must have spent about ten minutes trying to make the thing work, but the “expert” solves it within thirty seconds. “The car works now, and there’s no need to call auto-insurance. You don’t need to thank me for it. But a tip for the service would be great.”

If you approach with the giving hand, people will give back. The catch is, the man just solved a problem he previously caused.

While you were away, the “mechanic” disabled your car in such an easy way that’s not evident for the driver. When he arrives to help, he just connects some cables, presses some buttons, or gets a missing piece out of his pocket.

“You’re welcome.”

#5 Car Dent Repair Scams

You were driving in your car when some “mechanics” stopped you. 

“Excuse me. I work for the body shop and see you have some damage. Would you mind if we look at it?”

These strangers claim to be mechanics, sometimes with business cards. 

“We were driving to fix another vehicle anyway, so we don’t mind stopping to fix yours. We have already equipped all the tools in our car. Since I’m feeling generous today, we’ll give you a deep discount.”

When you look at their car, however, it looks as cheap as their deal. How can they promise to fix your car when they drive themselves a damaged car? 

“We’ll do it under $200 in cash. We’re saving you at least a thousand dollars.”

Result? They apply car wax and superficial changes, so it “looks” like they repaired the dent. When you visit the actual mechanic, you realize the mistake.

#6 Vehicle Wheel Clamp

You park your car on the same spot you always do, only to find someone clamped your wheels later on. Whether it’s fair or not, you assume you made a mistake, or they changed the laws. Or you don’t want to waste time on it, so you pay $100s to free your car.

But you can’t clamp cars in all countries for any reason. It’s illegal to tow or clamp vehicles on private land, but some companies could do it regardless of the law.

The same con-men will make you pay the fine on the spot or negotiate your freedom. Know the law before you pay.

#7 Fake Injuries

For this scam, you’ll regret not having bought that car camera. In busy areas, people may fake accidents to get you in trouble, no matter how well you drive. If someone has an injury already, they can hide behind your car, get in the way as you drive off the lot, and strike the back. You’d think you caused the accident.

You can’t prove your innocence, and the fake victim threatens to make a claim against you. But they’ll forgive you if you compensate them with $100. Most would pay for it to avoid complications.

#8 “I ran out of gas” scam

Here’s an on-the-road version of the well-known advance fee scam. You drive until you find some people asking for help from another car.

“We run out of gas and won’t get on time to our mother’s funeral/my daughter’s birth. Please, lend us $20-$50. We’ll be grateful and repay you later.”

If you get out of the car, you open yourself to potential gas station scams and related.

But if you feel benevolent, you should go with them to the nearest gas station rather than paying them on the spot. Most scammers will turn you down at that point because the whole story is a ruse.

After you help those people, you wonder how they’ll pay you back. You got no contact information, and they already drove too far to reach them back. At least, you helped them arrive at the (fake) event.

How To Prevent Parking Lot Scams

It’s tricky to prevent parking scams when you’re not there when they happen. By the time you get back to your car, you may find mechanical issues, unexpected charges, and whatnot. 

If you keep some basic tips, you’ll save yourself from such unpleasant surprises.

#1 Act fast

Most people park their cars, planning to spend hours in the building. If you’re only there for a quick matter, you’re already protected from most parking lot scams. 

Many buildings allow a ten-minute “grace” period. You get a ticket, but the price changes based on how long you stay in the building. If a parking assistant approaches, don’t get fooled. You don’t pay a dime within that period.

#2 Monitor your car

The longer you’re away, the more risk you take. Knowing what happens to your car at any moment lets you instantly respond when something is not right.

You can install vehicle alarms and cameras, so if someone approaches and stays nearby for too long, you get an app notification on your phone. Also, vehicle cameras save the day when an accident isn’t your fault.

If you can’t afford a camera, you might as well leave your passenger in the car while you’re shopping. You can still park safely without doing it, but at least keep it in a visible spot.

#3 Keep the data safe

If robbers break into your car, they may look for electronics, devices, and papers. If you leave your documents in the car, they may steal your identity and know where you live.

Learn more about identity theft and how to avoid it

Is it easy to avoid? Yes. Does it happen often? It depends on the building, area, and city. You know how people think: nobody believes scams may happen to them until they do.

Wrapping Up

Parking lots happen where you don’t expect it. You may have visited a shopping center for years and find a parking attendant one random day. Don’t assume the owners updated their terms; question it.
Lastly, you might want to think of parking apps to avoid scams and save time.

Some apps show you where you can park in real-time, whether you need to pay or not, and what feedback previous drivers have left.

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