Warning to drivers as parking meter scam back doing rounds in France

How to avoid falling victim to the fraud, which involves stealing your credit card

The scam concerns parking meters that only take credit cards for payment

A well-known parking meter scam that involves stolen credit cards and PIN codes is back in France, authorities across France are warning, in a new alert to drivers.

The scam was first reported widely in 2018, but has been on the increase again since May last year, police in Tarn (Occitanie) and the mairie of Malakoff (Hauts-de-Seine, Ile-de-France), have said.

In their most recent alert, the Police Nationale du Tarn said that they had recently received two reports of the parking meter scam in the city of Albi.

The victims were in their 70s-80s, and had their bank card and PIN code stolen by a scammer, who then went to take out as much cash as possible before the card could be cancelled.

How does the scam work? 

Typically, the scammer stands at the parking meter as other drivers queue to pay. They then pretend that their payment is not working, and ask the driver behind them to pay for their parking, offering to pay them back immediately in cash.

The victim inserts their card into the parking meter. The scammer then surreptitiously takes a note of their PIN code as they type it in. Then - in a sleight of hand - the scammer takes the credit card from the machine, but tells the victim that the machine has swallowed the card, pretending to be sympathetic.

Before the victim has time to become suspicious, the scammer flees, card in hand, and takes out a substantial amount of cash at a nearby ATM before the victim can report it.

Older people may be more vulnerable to this scam, as they may feel less comfortable with the parking meter technology, or less agile when it comes to protecting their bank card details.

How can I avoid falling victim to the scam?

The Malakoff mairie warns people to be alert when paying for parking. It also advises:

  • Never enter your credit card code in front of someone
  • Be alert and block someone if they are trying to get too close when you are using your card
  • If your card is ‘lost’ or stolen, call your bank immediately to cancel the card, or cancel/freeze it yourself via your banking app (some apps allow you to do this)

The Malakoff authorities also said that it is incredibly unlikely that a parking meter would ‘swallow’ a card. At most, if a payment does not work, the meter would simply return the card and not take payment.

“If someone says [the meter has swallowed your card], they're probably trying to fool you,” they said.