The suspect did not bother with copying the real kind of paper used by the police, the format, or even the fonts that are usually deployed by law enforcement. In this case, it is fortunate that the suspect did not bother, as it made it easier for potential victims to notice that something was off. Otherwise, even police officers would have struggled to discover the fake and the real tickets.
The first element that made people pay extra attention to the fake parking tickets, which were probably written at a moment's notice, as they do have a vehicle description, including license plates, was the fact that Comic Sans was used, as well as the addition of palm trees next to the name of the police department.
There were other signs of a fake, such as the lack of an address of the precinct, or even a phone number of the police station, among others. The font was the only one that stood out for someone who had never seen a ticket made by the Santa Cruz Police Department in California.
It looked legitimate up until a point, and it even had a QR code that was there to help the drivers pay their fines with just a scan of the code with their phone's camera. Well, this part is the kicker – scanning that code would take the victims to a fraudulent website that is made to resemble the real one.
This tactic is common among scammers on the internet. They usually only work online and try to convince victims to enter their information in a form that mimics the one used by their bank. There are many other online scams going around, and some involve calls to your landline or invitations to call a certain number to resolve a billing issue.
Instead, it is a scam to get people's credit card information. With the latter, a scammer can take all the money on the card if the owner of the said card does not contact their bank in time to prevent any unwanted transaction.
At this point, it is unclear how many people fell victim to this fake parking ticket swindle. The suspect was caught by police officers on the same day that the first complaints were filed, and he even admitted to handing the parking tickets out. However, the suspect denied receiving payment. It is possible that nobody fell for the fake citations or that those who did have yet to realize it.
The suspect is currently in jail for the "unlawful use of a computer system," as well as attempted fraud, but there is no charge relating to the fact that he allegedly pretended to represent the local police department. Curiously, the scammer placed the fake ticket at $42, while a real citation from the City of Santa Cruz for a parking violation would have been $43.
Any drivers who received a ticket can always call the City of Santa Cruz's Parking Office to confirm that the citation is valid. Remember that tickets can also be disputed, and always be sure to double-check or even triple-check any website address that you enter and requests your personal information.
According to people who commented on the post, the target website that the QR code was directing users to had been previously used in a different kind of online scam.