Parking Lot Scams
Last updated 5/25/2023 at 3:20pm | View PDF
If you’re like me, you’ve had enough of being cooped up with the cold, winter weather, and are chomping at the bit to get outside and enjoy the spring sunshine! But a note of caution – while we’re out there frolicking in the beautiful spring weather, let’s remember to be mindful that just about everybody likes the springtime – even scammers! Yes, even scammers.
And most recently, their fraudulent schemes are targeting seniors outdoors – in parking lots. So, let’s educate ourselves, and take a look at what some popular parking lot scams look like.
The Overly Helpful Stranger
A friend of mine told me how a relative of hers – a woman in her mid-80s – was recently the target of a scam in a grocery warehouse parking lot in West L.A.
Jane (not her real name) had just purchased a number of items at the grocery warehouse and was pushing a fully loaded shopping cart to her car. As Jane opened the trunk of her car, she was approached by a younger woman who asked if she could help Jane unload her items. Jane declined the offer, saying she was fine and didn’t need help. But the younger woman insisted and began helping Jane anyway.
After all the items were put in the trunk, the young woman told Jane she’d be glad to follow her home and help her take the groceries inside. Again, Jane declined this offer, saying thank you but no, that would not be necessary. Jane then got into her car and headed home. Once on the road, Jane noticed that the young woman was following her.
Fortunately, Jane lives in a gated community, so when she reached the guard at the gate, she told him not to allow the car behind her to enter the premises. He agreed. But the young woman who was following Jane, zoomed in behind her, with the gate “arm” coming down on the tail end of her car.
Undeterred, the young woman continued following Jane to her residence, where she helped Jane unload the groceries on an outdoor patio table. The young woman finally left after Jane refused to allow her to help bring the groceries inside her home.
This was a very scary situation, where Jane was basically accosted by an overly helpful, intrusively aggressive stranger in the parking lot of a major grocery warehouse. The scammer, posing as a helpful stranger, did everything she could to “help” Jane so that she could gain access to Jane’s home. Fortunately, the scammer failed.
The Distraction Scam
Last November, I wrote about a friend of mine who was the victim of a “distraction theft scheme.” My friend, Phyllis (not her real name), had gone shopping at a local grocery store and was in her car ready to leave for home, when she was approached by a nice-looking couple who asked her for directions. Phyllis rolled down the passenger window of her car to offer help. (Note: Phyllis’s handbag was on the passenger seat of her car.) But the woman opened Phyllis’s passenger car door and proceeded to open a map and place it over the passenger seat (and Phyllis’s purse) to show where she and her husband wanted to go. While Phyllis was showing the woman how to get to the destination, the woman’s husband was rifling through her purse.
Shortly after the couple left, Phyllis was driving out of the grocery store parking lot, when she received an urgent phone call from her bank’s fraud unit, notifying her that someone had tried to charge over $10,000 to her credit cards! All charges had been denied, with the exception of one charge for $1,600, which eventually was reversed. The thieves had stolen three credit cards from Phyllis. All three cards had to be cancelled.
Fortunately for Phyllis, her bank’s fraud unit was on the ball!
Hey! You Hit My Car!
The “Hey! You Hit My Car” scam often takes place in a parking lot. This is how it can play out – Scammers wait till you come out of a store, and then approach you, saying you hit their car when you parked next to them, or sideswiped their car when you drove into the parking lot. The scammer may show you “scratch marks” on your car that somehow match “scratch marks” on their vehicle as proof of the accident. Next, the scammer might suggest that you settle the situation without contacting insurance companies or the police, i.e., they’ll take several hundred dollars cash from you, so your insurance rates won’t go up, etc.
It’s a strategy designed to make you doubt yourself and to instill fear and confusion, so you’ll act quickly and not think clearly about what’s really going on. It’s a con job. Don’t fall for it! Call the police instead.
How to Protect Yourself
One of the best ways to protect yourself from any scam that takes place in a public arena such as a parking lot is to remain mindful of your surroundings at all times. Be present. Keep your mind focused on what you’re doing in the moment.
Keep your attention on your purse / wallet when out in public. Keep your purse zipped closed. Wear a slash-proof, anti-theft, cross-body purse or fanny pack.
Try to go shopping or on walks with a friend or friends. There’s greater safety in groups.
Be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Be aware. Notice vehicles that may be following you or look out of place. Call 911 if needed.
If you are the victim of a parking lot scam, report it immediately to the police.
Report parking lot scams to the manager of the grocery store or business where the scam occurred. They need to be alerted to the fact that a crime has taken place involving one of their customers on their property.
And finally, but most importantly, as our Stop Senior Scams Acting Program (SSSAP) Educator Ann Stahl has suggested, “Don’t let your desire to be kind to strangers distract you from protecting yourself!”
Be empowered! Find your voice! Speak out about fraud!
Where to Report Scams
• Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or online at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#
• For questions about Medicare fraud/abuse, call the Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-855-613-7080.
• U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.
Remember: You may be a target, but you don’t have to be a victim!
This article first appeared in the March 2023 issue of Not Born Yesterday (NBY) at http://www.nbynews.com and is reproduced here with the permission of Dr. Sherry McCoy, Ph.D .; NBY; and the Stop Senior Scams Acting Program (SSSAP). Dr. Sherry McCoy, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and actor for SSSAP in Los Angeles. Follow SSSAP on Facebook.