In the news today somebody in India got tricked into giving her car key to a well-dressed thief that she thought was the valet.
Also hitting the news today a man in Arlington, Virginia lost his Toyota Prius to a thief in a similar way.
The man in Arlington was visiting the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Arlington. Since he has a prosthetic leg, he really needed either a close parking spot or a valet service. He found somebody whom he guessed was a valet, handed him the key, and even very generously pre-tipped him $5.
Well, this hotel doesn't have a valet parking service. The man discovered his car was missing when he was ready to leave. And now the victim is on TV telling his story.
How can you avoid becoming a victim?
First, make sure you are handing your key to a uniformed valet with a name tag.
Before handing over the key, whip out your smartphone and take a face photo of the valet. One of the face, and one that includes the name tag. And you should be IN THEIR FACE while you are doing this—so it is absolutely clear that you are DOCUMENTING who you are about to hand your car over to.
If the valet is a phony valet, they will most likely abort and begin to either run or slither away. That face shot is a deterrent.
Just because somebody is wearing an authentic-looking valet uniform, it does not mean they are a real valet. For a very low-cost investment, anybody can acquire a valet uniform. (A $50 or $100 investment in a uniform is a low price to pay for getting a new car.)
Do not trust that the presence of a uniform means you are safe from fake-valet-vehicle-theft.
Will it be awkward to take that face shot? If it is, so what? You need to take reasonable precautions to protect your property.
And valet workers are tipped employees. They should be completely agreeable to it. Getting a face shot of who you are about to give your car key to should be an automatic part of your terms of doing business with any valet parking service.
If you get push-back on that, I would consider this unacceptable and I would take my car elsewhere.
Next, ask questions.
What is the cost to valet park my car?
How long does it generally take to retrieve a car?
Can I call you in advance to bring my car out? And what number is that?
Tell me exactly what the cost is? Is tax involved?
Where do I pay for my valet parking?
How far away will you park my vehicle? Where will you park it?
What is your name again? (Make sure it matches the name tag.)
How long have you been working for this company?
And what company is that?
Any fake valet will be tripped up with these questions. But if you still have doubts, you can always ask to see their driver's license. Once it is shown to you, snap a photo of it. Make sure the photo on the driver's license matches whoever is standing in front of you.
If they say they have no driver's license on them, this is a red flag. Every valet worker should carry their driver's license with them. Excuses are unacceptable.
Snap a photo of your odometer. Then take the claim ticket and keep it with you in a safe place. (If you lose it, whoever finds it can claim your car.)
If no claim ticket is presented to you, this would be a red flag and a sign that you should just get in your car and leave (no explanation required—just get out of there).
Your chances of becoming the victim of a fake valet are remote, but it is a risk that does exist and YOU SHOULD take steps to defend yourself and your car from this nasty valet parking hazard.
For a more thorough description of how to intelligently use valet parking services, I recommend: "What to do when valet parking."
Regarding the gentleman who lost his Toyota Prius, that's a lousy car. A lot of them have an awful toxic-like smell. I wrote about it HERE. He might be better off not having that particular car.