Watch out for red light cameras and a related scam
Image source: Flickr user Nicholas Eckhart
In addition to worrying about tickets from patrolling policemen if you run a red light, these days you must also be on the look out for red light cameras posted at intersections. Of course, it's a bad idea to run a red – you put yourself and others at risk. But sometimes, you can be caught up when you were driving through on a yellow and it turns red faster than you expected, or a car in front of you slows down trapping you in the road. In North Carolina, red light camera tickets run $50-$100 but don't add points to your license. If you get one of these citations in the mail, you should pay it promptly. But a new scam is now using these red light cameras to extort money from victims. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself.
How the scam works
This scam showed up in late 2014 and has been spreading ever since. It starts with a phone call from someone saying they're calling from the court or that they're a police officer (or something similar). They tell you that a red light camera caught you, you missed your court date and that there's a warrant out for your arrest. They tell you to pay up big bucks, from a couple hundred up to $1,000, or face immediate arrest and jail time. As with most scams of this type, they demand payment via a money card or cash transfer that is virtually untraceable and unrecoverable once the thieves have your money.
What you must know to protect yourself
First, know that the courts or police will not call you like this. If there were a warrant out for your arrest, you'd find out by a sheriff knocking at your door to serve it. Second, police officers don't make calls demanding cash for citations. Third, the court system does not ever demand payment in the form of Green Dot cards, Money Pak or Western Union. Courts typically only accept cash or a cashier's check for fines, but some courts now accept credit cards. Last, you usually have to pay online through the court's website or in person – not over the phone in response to threats.
What to do if you get a red light camera scam call
The best thing to do is to hang up immediately. You don't need to engage in a conversation. The longer you stay on the line with them, the more likely the fraudster will get information to use to scam you or that they'll be able to scare you into complying with their demands. Don't confirm your name, your address or anything about yourself. Also, don't panic. Just hang up. If they call back, tell them you're calling the police to report them and hang up again. Don't answer any subsequent calls. Instead, check your caller ID (or on a home line, dial *69 to hear the last number that called) and write down their number. Then contact the North Carolina Department of Justice to report the fraud.
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