Police, Cedar Park family warn of parking lot scam

A Cedar Park family was scammed by a fake parking attendant -- while parking in a Rainey Street lot. The lot's owner and the police say it's a problem they're trying to stop.

It's easy to see why people, locals and tourists alike flock to Rainey Street. From munching down on some grub at a food truck to enjoying a drink on the patio, the reasons are clear. 

Parking though is far less enjoyable, making space in surrounding lots all the more valuable.  It's a point scammers have made note of. 

"It's a rip-off," said an exasperated Rhonda Loeliger, in front of the parking lot she said her family was scammed from. 

Last Sunday, Loeliger and her family planned a trip to Banger's, where they parked in the LAZ Parking lot at the beginning of Rainey Street. 

As they approached the machine to pay for their parking, they noticed a man standing next to it. 

"He was wearing a button-down collared work shirt with LAZ parking embroidered on the shirt," Loeliger explained. 

The so-called employee began speaking with them - and several others - waiting in line to pay. 

"There was a line of people going through him. And he was saying that LAZ was having a competition with other parking companies and that he was offering discounts for parking if we went through him," she said. 

Her husband paid the so-called attendant, who signed a pre-printed slip, and handed it to them. They then put the slip on their dashboard and made their way to Banger's. 

When they returned, Loeliger said the attendant was gone, and on their car was a $28 citation from LAZ parking.

"It was very frustrating because it wasn't just us. Almost every car on this lot had a parking ticket on it," Loeliger explained. 

Printed in the "Notes" section of the ticket was a description of the citation, which stated: "DO NOT PAY PERSON/ATTENDANT.  PAY ONLY MACHINE." 

While Loeliger said her family can afford the cost of the citation, she wanted to speak out on behalf of those families who cannot. 

"A lot of people, that's going to be a hardship on them.  Maybe this was their one splurge of the month," Loeliger said. "Now they have this $28 parking ticket that they may not have the money for." 

In an area full of visitors, Loeliger said the presence of a scam is a bad look for the city. 

"If you want to earn money, get a job. You don't need to steal from people who are just trying to enjoy their day," said Loeliger. 

Around the lot, there are signs instructing drivers to pay by machine - though a separate lot across the street routinely operates only with an attendant, making the scammer's story more believable. 

KVUE reached out to LAZ Parking for a statement, and clarity on their policies.  Their statement is posted below:

“Unfortunately, the selling of invalid parking receipts by people impersonating parking attendants is an ongoing issue throughout downtown Austin. LAZ Parking would like to remind patrons that the surface lots they run in the City exclusively use "Pay and Display” Parking Machines for payment. LAZ lot attendants are for assistance only and do NOT accept payment for parking. We advise that our customers please read and observe the signs posted for payment instructions and use the machines on the property. If you believe you were a victim of a parking scam at a LAZ lot and have received a violation, despite payment, you can appeal the violation here

Commander Jennifer Stephenson oversees the downtown area and said it's been an ongoing issue for years. 

"It's been a longstanding problem, that we wish to curtail," explained Commander Stephenson. 

Many of these sorts of parking scams arise in the downtown area.  Despite its prevalence, Stephenson said they can be tough to stop for a variety of reasons. 

"[The victim] feels that the attendant is a legitimate person, pay the "attendant," and it's not until many hours later until many hours later when they come back to the car in the evening that they may find they have a ticket," said Stephenson. 

That time lapse gives scammers a key head start in getting away. 

"[The scammer] may hit one lot, go to another lot. Maybe just stay there for a few minutes. Also - it may not be the same person.  They may rotate through different people, kind of a network of people who are downtown. So it's hard to find those people who are constantly moving around as well, they don't stay stationary," Stephenson explained. 

Another issue: a lack of reports. 

"[The victim] is ready to go home, so they may not report," said Stephenson, who described this sort of scam as one of volume.

While a scammer may take just a few bucks off each victim - over a night, it can quickly add up. 

Due to the relatively low dollar amount of such citations, Stephenson said many victims choose to pay the violation directly instead of spending time calling the police and filing a report.

So how can you avoid becoming a victim?

"See if there are signs posted that say 'no attendant on duty,' so be wary if somebody comes up to you and says then, 'they are an attendant," explained Stephenson. 

Other tips include reading all posted signage, going directly to the machine, and learning more about other electronic payment options - such as mobile pay and ParkX, an app used throughout Austin to pay for spots in public spaces. 

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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