Traffic Ticket Email Scams

Here is one way to get a traffic ticket: break the law in front of a police officer, who then pulls you over and writes you a citation. This is the most common way to get fined, and it probably dates to about a week after cars first became commercially available.

Here is another: get caught on a traffic camera going too fast or running a red light, and the ticket shows up in the (postal) mail. This method is much newer than the pull-‘em-over routine, and it’s not in use everywhere, but it has become more common.

Here is a way you’re not going to get a ticket: through an email informing you of a violation, that also contains links to pay the fine or dispute the ticket.

Why? For the same reason the IRS doesn’t send official communications through email: because there is no “official” email address through which to reach you, or anyone else. There is no national, state, county or municipal database keeping track of your email contact information.

Think about it. You live at your address, and this information appears on official documents like your driver’s license, financial accounts, and everything else. You cannot live at 123 Any Street, then suddenly decide, “You know what? I’m tired of 123 Any Street. I live at 456 Other Street now!” and have that be your address, then change it to something else a few days later.

But you can do that with email addresses. You can also have more than one. You can have more than ten. The number of email addresses you use is really only limited by how much spare time you have on your hands. And since there is no database at any level of government, no registry that is updated when you create a new email address, there is no way for a traffic ticket to be sent by email with any confidence that the address belongs to a particular person, or that it is still maintained.

“But I’ve been renewing my license and plates online for years, so the state does have my email address on file,” you might be thinking.

And it is true—you can renew plates and online. But again, they only have that email address because you provided it. There is no way for the state to verify that it belongs to you personally—after all, someone else could be paying for your plates and using their email (nice of ‘em, eh?), or you could switch internet providers the day after renewing, causing the address you used for the transaction to go dormant or disappear. Since there is no database keeping track of these things, sending a traffic ticket through email simply isn’t practical.

If you’re still unsure about an email informing you of a traffic fine, all you have to do is call the department from which the email claims to be from. Use an internet search to find the real phone number—don’t rely on any contact information from the message itself—and ask if they issue tickets by email. The answer will be “no,” but it does not hurt to check if you’re still worried. Whatever you do, don’t click on any links or reply to the email in any way.