Parking Lot Scams: What to do if you’re approached by a stranger asking for cash

NBC15 Investigates looks into the challenges for law enforcement to catch the scammers
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2021 at 7:01 PM CDT
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MONONA, Wis. (WMTV) - A local man is warning others after being approached by a stranger asking for cash. He later learned he was being scammed.

NBC15 Investigates first reported on parking lot scams in early September after a Middleton man says he was scammed out of $1,000.

Since that report aired, many people have shared similar stories with NBC15 Investigates. Richard Gravelle is one of many who say they’ve been approached outside of local stores across Dane County.

Gravelle says he was approached by a man recently in the Monona Walmart parking lot. He says the man drove up beside him in an SUV claiming to have just been robbed. He says the stranger told him he needed money immediately to get back to Canada where he says he is from. Gravelle says he saw a woman and child in the car with the man and thought about how he might be able to help them.

“I handed him $20,” said Gravelle. But the man wanted more. Gravelle says the man flagged him down again as he walked away saying that he needed more money. “He pulled out a gold chain and told me he was a millionaire from Dubai,” said Gravelle.

The stranger offered his gold jewelry in exchange for more cash and said he would later send for his jewelry. Gravelle says he immediately got suspicious and ended the conversation. He was unable to get is $20 back but says he’s glad he caught on to the trick before giving up more cash.

Gravelle says he complained to police but was told there wasn’t much they could do.

Monona Police Chief Brian Chaney Austin says these parking lot scams are crimes and can be difficult to investigate.

“Our burden is probable cause. We have to have enough evidence to prove that the crime which is theft by fraud actually took place,” said Chief Austin.

He says these scams are important to report because the more information law enforcement can gather, the better chance they have of following up.

“These cases are often challenging. It helps when we have detailed descriptions and support of the business if it happened on private property,” says Chief Austin. Austin also says there are many people who legitimately need help and if you come across someone you believe fits that description, direct them to places they can find help.

Gravelle says he’s not upset about losing his cash but doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else.


- Do not give cash to anyone you can’t confirm is legitimate
- If the stranger needs help, direct them to community resources or law enforcement
- Report scams or attempted scams to police, the Better Business Bureau, and store management if it happens in their parking lot

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