Scam Alert: How to Identify & Avoid Common Windshield Scams
Windshield scams are an unfortunate part of car ownership (or even just renting a car), and it doesn't look like they'll be going away any time soon.
We have put together this comprehensive guide for our customers and website visitors to help educate you about the creative ways scammers use auto glass to take advantage of other people.
- This guide covers everything from common scams like car dealer and insurance fraud to more obscure scams (and possible hoaxes that aren't really true) such as car theft and kidnapping.
- At the end of each scam section, we have put together some simple points to remember so that you don't fall victim to that particular type of scam.
- Car Dealer Windshield Scams
- Identity Theft Windshield Scams (Fake Tickets)
- Insurance Windshield Scams
- Parking Ticket Windshield Scams (Pay Somebody Else's Ticket)
- Rental Car Company Windshield Scams
- Windshield Washer Scams
- Car Theft Windshield Scams (Fake $100 Bill on Windshield) [Possible Urban Legend]
- Kidnapping Windshield Scams (Fake Free Jewelry on Windshield) [Possible Hoax]
Car Dealer Windshield Scams
Car dealers have a bad reputation among the general public and in some cases it is well-deserved. Unscrupulous dealers take advantage of every opportunity they have to charge the customer more money and pay as little money themselves to provide the part(s) or service(s) the customer is paying for. This helps the dealer make as much profit as possible.
For the sake of this article we are just looking at common car dealer scams involving auto glass, but dealers do this with all sorts of things such as paint protection, rust proofing, leather protection, and other services that are hard to verify have been done correctly, let alone done at all.
VIN Etching Scams (also called "Etch a Sketch Window Scams")
The Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, is a 17-digit unique combination of numbers and letters that identifies each vehicle. There is some accepted evidence that etching the VIN onto a vehicle's windows helps protect the vehicle from being stolen. Because of this, some insurance companies give their customers a discount if their vehicle has had its VIN etched.
Some car dealers use this as an opportunity to make easy money. What they do is charge much higher prices for VIN etching than it actually costs. The real cost to etch a VIN on a vehicle's windows is somewhere in the range of $10 - $30. In fact, anybody can buy a kit to etch their vehicle's VIN onto its windows for around $30, so this is not an expensive or hard service to perform.
However, dealers have been reported charging hundreds of dollars for this simple service, some as high as $900! Obviously, a dealership is a business and has to turn a profit, but at some point turning a profit turns into scamming customers and that point is way less than $900 for VIN etching.
In addition, some dealers have even been caught inserting VIN etching (at heavily inflated prices) into car sales deals without the customer's knowledge or agreement, which is actual fraud. There have been several lawsuits brought against various dealers for this kind of crime.
Bogus Maintenance Scams
Aside from selling cars, the other major opportunity for dealers to scam their customers is when doing maintenance. Most people are not knowledgeable about the real maintenance needs of their vehicle and the actual hard costs associated with them.
In addition, modern vehicles have simpler maintenance requirements than older ones and so they generally don't need as much hands-on service work to maintain as older vehicles did. For instance, most new cars don't need oil changes every 3,000 miles like the conventional wisdom dictated for older cars.
Many dealers use this as an opportunity to either charge customers for things they don't need or charge them significantly more money than they should.
When it comes to auto glass, this mostly involves overcharging for windshield service items such as wipers or windshield washer fluid. Wipers should generally cost less than $30 and windshield wiper fluid should either be free or a few dollars (it can be purchased from any auto parts store for a few dollars or less per gallon).
How to Avoid Car Dealer Windshield Scams
1. Carefully review all paperwork and make sure you are not being charged for something that you did not agree to.
2. For any item that you are not familiar with, do some quick research on the process and costs associated with it.
The Internet makes this a simple process that only takes a minute or two. (That way you won't end up paying hundreds of dollars for something like VIN etching that can be done yourself for $30, unless you actually want to :).)
Identity Theft Windshield Scams (Fake Tickets)
The goal with all identity theft scams is to steal a person's identification information so that the scammer can then use it to apply for credit, get loans, sell it to other ID thieves or do any of the other things ID thieves do with somebody else's information.
Clever scammers have come up with the idea of using fake tickets to steal identities. What they do is leave some sort of fake ticket on your windshield. Most often this is a parking ticket. The ticket has a link to an official-sounding and looking Internet website and tells you to visit the site for legitimate-sounding purposes like payment of a fine, disputes, etc. However, the website the ticket sends people to is a scam site designed to collect information.
They generally do this in one of two ways:
- They ask you to input your identification information into the site itself (to supposedly look up your case, verify your identity, etc.).
- When you visit the site, it infects your computer with a virus that steals your information when you enter it into legitimate sites on your computer you visit in the future (like online banking websites).
Either way, once the scammer gets your information they can do whatever they want with it.
Windshields aren't the only ways scammers deliver fake tickets. According to the DefensiveDriving.org link below, other common methods include regular mail, email, in person from fake parking attendants and by phone.
How to Avoid Identity Theft Windshield Scams
1. Verify that the vehicle information on the ticket actually matches your car.
Fake tickets generally won't exactly identify your car (license number, make, model, etc.) since they are designed to be printed and used in bulk. Simply verifying that the ticket has your vehicle information on it is an easy way to weed out the majority of fake tickets.
2. If you receive a ticket you're not sure about, contact the city's parking ticket or police department.
You can find contact information for either one of these on the city's official website. They can help you determine if a ticket you received is legitimate or not.
Insurance Windshield Scams
The basic idea with insurance scams is to get the customer's insurance information, submit an exaggerated or completely false claim, and then either not do the work or do it to the lowest possible standards.
This way the scammer collects the most possible money from the insurance company while they pay the least possible money to do (or not do) the work. In some cases, the customer's glass is not even damaged so the scammer damages it for them!
There are several common variations on this one. The only difference between these common variations is how the scammers find their potential victims. The end goal is the same for all of them - submit an exaggerated or even completely false claim to your insurance company.
Parking Lot Windshield Scams
In this scam, you are walking to or from your vehicle in a parking lot and a scammer approaches you offering a free windshield. They may show you damage on your windshield that is either non-existent or could be fixed, and they offer to give you a new windshield at no cost to you. They will conveniently have a mobile windshield tech nearby to perform the work.
Once the scammer gets your insurance information, they tell you they will handle the insurance process for you. You go on your way thinking that you just got a great deal, without knowing that the scammer later submitted an exaggerated or false claim on your vehicle.
Door-to-door Windshield Scams
In this scam, a scammer comes to your door and tells you they are offering free windshields to customers in your area. They then try to find out if your insurance covers auto glass. If it does, they will offer to give you a new windshield for no cost whether it has any damage on it or not so that they can submit an exaggerated or false claim.
Phone Windshield Scams
Like the parking lot and door-to-door scams, this is simply another way scammers use to find people with glass coverage on their auto insurance. If they find out you have it, they will send someone out to do the work and then submit a bogus claim.
How to Avoid Insurance Windshield Scams
1. Be wary of extremely aggressive "advertising" methods.
Super aggressive advertising like going door-to-door and even approaching people in parking lots is not something most legitimate businesses do.
2. Be wary of what businesses are doing with your insurance information and how they are submitting the claim.
Legitimate auto glass businesses will generally start a claim with a 3-way call between the auto insurance company, you the vehicle owner and they the auto glass company doing the work. The purpose of this call is to work out the claim details and get it started.
At a minimum, legitimate businesses will keep you informed about the insurance process, the claim details and any other information it is reasonable that you should know.
On the other hand, scammers will try to collect your information and then not let you know how they are submitting the claim. In some cases, not only do they submit bogus claims but they actually submit multiple bogus claims for each customer!
Parking Ticket Windshield Scams (Pay Somebody Else's Ticket)
This is a very basic scam but it's more common than you might think.
The basic idea with this scam is that somebody who has received a legitimate parking ticket or some other violation finds another vehicle (especially if it's the same make/model/color) and puts the ticket on their windshield. The scammer then hopes that the person doesn't read the ticket details carefully and pays their ticket for them!
Unlike insurance fraud and some of the other scams in this guide, there are no real risks here to the scammer, and there's a decent chance somebody else will pay their ticket!
How to Avoid Parking Ticket Windshield Scams
This one is pretty easy to avoid - simply check the vehicle information on the ticket.
While this is an easy scam to perform from the scammer's perspective, it's also an easy one to avoid. Since the ticket was originally assigned to somebody else, the vehicle information on the ticket won't match your vehicle. All you have to do is verify that the vehicle information on the ticket is for somebody else and then you can safely throw the ticket away.
Rental Car Company Windshield Scams
Rental car windshield scams are common not only in the United States but in many other countries around the world. These scams involve the rental company trying to blame customers returning cars for small windshield chips (that might have been on the car before the customer even rented it). The rental company then charges the customer for a new windshield, even though the damage is not significant or could have been easily fixed.
Unfortunately, this kind of scam has been reported not just with smaller, fly-by-night rental car companies but larger ones as well. To make things even more complicated, rental car companies often try to upsell customers with supplementary insurance coverage for all kinds of different things, so the customer will already be uncertain about exactly what potential damage is covered by insurance and what damage they are responsible for.
When people travel to other countries it gets even more complicated because each country has its own set of rules for rental cars and insurance.
How to Avoid Rental Car Windshield Scams
1. The main way to avoid these scams is to carefully photograph the windshield of the car when you receive it so there is a picture record of its initial condition.
If you later receive a bogus charge from the rental company or their insurance company, you can use the pictures you took to clearly show the windshield's condition when you received the car. This should put a quick stop to bogus charges and claims.
2. When traveling out of the country and renting a car it is even more important to take photos of the windshield (and the rest of the car) when you receive it, as tourists are seen as an easy mark for this kind of scam.
Windshield Washer Scams
This is a low-tech but apparently effective scam that is common in many countries including the United States. There's even a general name for this kind of scammer "squeegee man".
The basic idea is that when a car is stopped at a traffic light, or otherwise stopped during normal driving, the scammer will approach the car and start washing the windshield in hopes of getting a tip. If the driver doesn't tip them for their "service" then the scammer tries to embarrass them into tipping by making a scene.
A few years ago, one of these scammers explained how much money he made washing windshields in this way and it turns out it was well into 6 figures a year!
How to Avoid Windshield Washer Scams
This one's really basic. Just don't tip them! You don't have to. If they get aggressive, call the police and/or leave the area.
Car Theft Windshield Scams (Fake $100 Bill on Windshield) [Possible Urban Legend]
This is an extremely aggressive and dangerous type of crime that involves windshields. However, it may just be an urban legend.
We are not currently aware of a case where this scam was proven to have happened but there have been at least 1 or 2 eyewitness accounts posted online. Several state agencies including the Maryland Attorney General's office have warned consumers about it as well, so we wanted to include it in this guide.
The basic idea with this scam is that thieves place an interesting item (like a fake $100 dollar bill) on a potential target's windshield. The thieves want the driver to unlock the car and get in it, see the item on their windshield, and then get out to look at it. When the driver gets out, the thieves can then push them out of the way and steal the car the driver just unlocked for them.
How to Avoid Car Theft Windshield Scams
If you get back to your car and see something on the windshield that doesn't make sense, simply stay in your car and drive away from the area.
Kidnapping Windshield Scams (Fake Free Jewelry on Windshield) [Possible Hoax]
In July 2016, a woman posted an account on Facebook describing a possible kidnapping attempt. According to the account when her mother was returning to her car she noticed a van next to it with tinted windows. She got in her car and left.
When she got home she noticed a free Kay Jewelers gift ring in a bag on her windshield. The daughter surmised in the account that it was a kidnapping attempt where once the mom got out of her car to investigate the free ring the kidnappers in the van next to her would take her.
The local police department posted a statement on Facebook that they had received the account and they were looking into it but could not verify it. Later, the rumor-busting website Snopes.com looked into the account and concluded it was likely a hoax.