Getting a ticket is always bad news. But when you get a ticket that's not even real, you could be in serious trouble -- and not with the law. New ticket scams are targeting drivers throughout the United States, capturing personal information, stealing money and identities, and installing viruses and malware.
Ticket scams prey on fear. Most drivers are scared to leave tickets unpaid, especially when the scam insists you may be sent to collections, lose your car, or even be arrested. But often, the scammers reach out in ways legitimate law enforcement and parking agencies wouldn't, usually via email or even over the phone.
While you should always pay legitimate tickets, these ticket scams simply aren't real. Don't be a victim: watch out for these scams and learn how you can avoid them.
Fake Parking Tickets on Your Windshield
Getting a parking ticket stinks, but you've earned it, so you'll just go ahead and pay it, right? Don't be hasty. You should of course pay legitimate parking tickets, but scammers are increasingly developing official looking parking tickets to dupe drivers into paying for tickets even when they've done nothing wrong.
Often, these scam parking tickets appear when you've made a short stop and park in a spot that is perfectly fine. You're surprised to find a ticket waiting for you on your windshield. The ticket says it's from your city's parking department -- but it might actually take you to a website where scammers will steal your money and your payment information. They may even install a virus or malware on your computer, ultimately using all of the information they've collected to steal your identity.
Fake Parking Tickets in the Mail
Fake parking tickets don't only appear on windshields. You can get them in the mail as well. You may get a notice of parking collection services demanding payment of a fine for unauthorized parking. You'll be asked to pay for the fine in the mail to a P.O. box, over the phone, or online. There may be a sense or urgency, indicating that the fine is past due or about to go into collections.
Fake Parking Tickets via Email
Receiving a parking ticket via email is certainly unusual -- and it's most likely fake. You may get a notice in your email that looks as if it's officially issued by your city's parking department. It may insist that you owe for a parking fine -- often past due -- and give you a link to pay it immediately or face further fines or even impounding. Often, there is no vehicle description, license plate, or other identifying information in the email, only an insistence to pay.
Fake Parking Tickets from Another Driver
Though this scam isn't out to steal your financing information, they'll certainly take your money. Some drivers, upon receiving a parking ticket, will simply place their ticket on the windshield of another vehicle in the hopes that they'll just pay it without looking at too many details.
Fake Parking Attendants
During major events, many parking lots will set up attendants to collect cash as vehicles arrive on the lot. While this is a common practice, you should exercise caution and always consider whether you're handing your money over to a real parking attendant or not. You could just be giving cash to an opportunist who found an empty parking lot and set up shop. And when the event is over, you may discover you've gotten a parking, ticket, boot, or even been towed away.
Fake Speeding or Red Light Camera Tickets via Email
This scam involves an email indicating you've been caught speeding or running a red light. You may be asked to visit a website to pay for the ticket, or even told you have to open an attachment or visit a link to see the violation. The email may contain convincing details including street names and speed limits in areas where you regularly drive. It may even record a date or time when you know you were speeding through the intersection, making the claim very convincing. This data is often stolen through compromised or malicious traffic apps. Yes, really -- that app on your phone giving you directions could be feeding info to scammers that's used to trick you.
These scams are tougher to spot, as often, cities will contract their camera tickets out to a third party and legitimate notices may not always come directly from the city. However, even third party services typically do not send notices of violation via email.
Fake Toll Plaza Speeding Phone Calls
A variation on the speeding scam claims you've sped through a local toll plaza. A caller identifying as a sheriff's deputy will tell you that there's a warrant out for your arrest because you've failed to pay a toll and instead sped through the toll plaza. They will insist that you pay the fine on the phone or you will face arrest.
Tips for Avoiding Ticket Scams
- Check that the ticket is valid: Did you really park in the wrong zone or speed through that intersection? Is there even a red light camera in that area? If you feel certain you were in the clear, it should make you suspicious and warrant further investigation.
- Look for https: Any secure payment website will start with https for your protection. If the website on the ticket doesn't have https, it may not be real.
- Never open attachments or click on links in a violation email: Often, insistence that you click on a link or open an attachment to view your violation or pay your fine is a sure sign that you're dealing with a scam.
- Call the ticket issuer: Want to get the straight story on whether or not you have a ticket? Pick up the phone. Don't call the number on the ticket. Instead, look up the city's parking or police department phone number available on the city's official website.
- Don't give information over the phone: If a caller insists they are with the police department or parking authority, you should be skeptical. Law enforcement agencies do not typically conduct this kind of business over the phone. It's best to hang up and call your legitimate law enforcement agency directly to verify the claim.
- Check the license plate number and other details: Does that ticket really belong to you? Take a look at the license plate, intersection, time, date, photo, and other details to verify that this is truly your ticket and not someone else's. Keep in mind that even if the details are correct, the ticket may still be fake.
- Don't download anything: Legitimate city parking or police departments won't ask you to install a toolbar or program to pay for your ticket, but scammers might. If you install software from ticket scammers, you're likely to get a virus or malware on your computer.
- Be careful parking in cash lots: It's tough to tell which lots are staffed by legitimate attendants or not. Usually, real attendants will wear a shirt or some sort of identification that matches the sign posted at the parking lot, but not always. A receipt handed to you should also match the company's sign. If you're not sure, try parking in a lot with an automated receipt machine.
- Help others avoid similar scams: If you've been scammed or experienced an attempted ticket scam, tell your family and friends. You should also submit a claim to the Federal Trade Commission so they can learn more about the scams and better protect others against them.