The Truth About Paper-on-Rear-Window Carjackings

African woman in car adjusting mirror
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Since the early 2000s, viral rumors have circulated of a "new car-jacking scheme" involving the placement of a flyer, piece of paper, or $100 bill on a driver's rear window to trick them into exiting the vehicle while the engine is still running. No actual instances of this purported scheme have been documented. Nevertheless, officials advise motorists to be alert to suspicious activity and to take precautions when driving and when entering and exiting their vehicle.

Viral Rumors

In February of 2004, an online rumor began to spread of a "new" car theft scheme. Readers were advised to "be aware and be safe" to avoid falling victim to the scam, which supposedly involved would-be thieves placing a piece of paper on the rear window of a parked vehicle, hoping the driver would step out to examine it, allowing the thieves to hop in and drive off. The chain email encouraged people to "just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later."

Nine years later, another warning about a very similar car theft scheme spread across the web, this time through Facebook. The post warned readers not to get out of their cars, even if they see a valuable bill pressed against the windshield.

Although these warnings included some sound advice, there is no evidence that either of these particular carjacking schemes was ever carried out.

Advice from Authorities

Could a carjacking scam like those described above take place?

It's certainly possible. But despite the fact that this viral warning has been in circulation since February 2004, there are no published reports confirming any incidents of this kind.

That doesn't mean that drivers have no reason to be cautious. Police advise all drivers to be wary of strangers approaching with flyers, asking for directions, faking a fender-bender, or using other pretexts to gain access to a vehicle.

Judging from the available data, though, a typical carjacker is more likely to flash a weapon and try to remove you from your car by force than to try to trick you into exiting of your own accord.

While it's prudent to take stock of this warning and keep it in mind as one method a carjacker might use to separate drivers from their vehicles, it's equally prudent to note that, like most viral warnings of its kind, its claims are unsubstantiated.

Whatever strategy a carjacker uses, it's sure to include taking the victim by surprise. Much more important than worrying about whether or not to remove a piece of paper stuck to your rear window is staying aware of your surroundings and taking note of who may be lurking in the vicinity as you enter or exit your vehicle.

Other precautions to take (courtesy of the Attorney General of Florida):

  • Keep doors locked and windows shut.
  • Don't stop to assist a disabled motorist. Instead, contact a service station or police.
  • When stopped at a light, leave enough room between you and the car in front that you could make an escape.
  • Be suspicious of anyone approaching the car with fliers, asking for change or directions. Be ready to leave carefully, even if it means running a red light or stop sign.
  • While driving, if struck from behind or in any suspicious way, stay in your vehicle with the doors locked and windows closed until the police arrive. Activate your vehicle's emergency flashers.
  • If you're very suspicious, get the other vehicle's license number and drive to the nearest police station or a well-lighted area with lots of people.
  • If you think you are being followed, drive immediately to an area with lots of lights and people. If possible, drive to the nearest law enforcement office.
  • Obtain and use a cellular phone to call for help.

Sources

  • “Email Warning of New Carjacking Appears to Be Years Old Urban Legend.” Dallas Morning News, 20 Oct. 2011.
  • “Florida Attorney General - How to Prevent a Carjacking.” Florida Attorney General, myfloridalegal.com/pages.nsf/0/c655fd78f062fb2885256cc700692c3c.
  • Gwinn, Allen. Council Member's Carjacking Email Debunked, 16 Dec. 2008, www.dallas.org/node/595.