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Is that a real parking ticket on your windshield or is it a scam?

High-tech scammers can print up fake parking tickets on the fly

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Photo (c) Chris Ryan - Getty Images
Emerging artificial intelligence tools in the hands of scammers may be a near-future threat but the bad guys are already using technology to separate people from their money. The parking ticket scam is a prime example.

You may find a parking spot downtown to run a few errors. You put plenty of money in the meter, take the receipt and place it on your dashboard as instructed.

But when you return well within the allotted time period, low and behold there is a parking ticket on your windshield. How could that be?

A police officer didn’t put it there – a scammer did. With the help of a sophisticated hand-held printer, the scammer printed out a fake ticket that looked every bit as official as the real thing.

Many people figure “you can’t fight city hall” and pay it as instructed. But instead of being told to pay the fine at the courts building or the police station, the ticket asks for payment through PayPal or some non-governmental website.

If you pay the fine, you’ll not only pay for something you don’t owe but you will also hand the scammer a lot of personal information, including your name, address, phone number, and maybe even credit card or bank account information.

"I paid $15 to park in a garage and received a receipt for it, which I displayed on my dashboard,” one recent victim told the Better Business Bureau. “However, I then received a violation notice for $56 for the parking receipt not being visible on the dashboard."

It’s a widespread scam

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reports the scam appears to be widespread across the U.S. and offers this advice to people who are surprised to find a ticket on their windshield:

  • If you pay any ticket or fine online, verify the website before proceeding.

  • Any legitimate ticket will have a case number or citation number, and will not require outrageous amounts of personal information.

  • When in doubt, contact your law enforcement agency and verify the fine.

Sometimes police make arrests in these cases. In late December the Santa Cruz, Calif., Police Department arrested a 19-year-old on suspicion of unlawful use of a computer system and attempted fraud. Police say they don’t know how many fake tickets were distributed in the area but said they received “multiple” reports.

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