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NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – Got a parking ticket on your windshield, or a notice in the mail, when you thought you were parking legally? Investigate before you pay, said Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and author of “How to be the World’s Smartest Traveler.”
A long-time scam involving fake parking tickets is revving up, thanks to cheap and sophisticated hand-held printers that can make fake tickets appear real. Elliott, who invites defrauded consumers to complain on his website, said numerous consumers have contacted him about suspicious tickets. Scam sites like Snopes and DefensiveDriving.com are also warning about fake citations.
This ruse is even being reported in the U.K., where hundreds of consumers reportedly received emails about unpaid tickets. Snopes reported that emailed “parking violations bureau” notices are likely aimed at downloading malware on your computer. Don’t click on the attachment.
“There is a certain arbitrariness about parking tickets, and scammers take advantage of that,” said Elliott. “You get a ticket on your windshield, and you’re likely to just pay it.”
People with out-of-state plates are at particular risk, he noted. That’s because they’re not likely to stick around to dispute a parking ticket or even know how a local municipality handles its citations. Thus, when a tourist gets a citation that suggests you pay online or via PayPal, he or she might not pick up on the red flag, Elliott said.
It’s impossible to really know why this scam might be getting more popular, he added. But with handheld-printers selling for less than $300, the con artists’ job is getting increasingly simple. BarcodeFactory.com, for instance, is marketing a lightweight handheld printer for just $298. The thermal printout is likely to look a lot like the parking tickets issued by city-operated machinery.