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The 'Car-Wrapping' Scam Is a Dead-End Street

Hit the brakes on unsolicited offers to turn your vehicle into a billboard on wheels

Woman putting sticker with company slogan on a car

Alamy Stock Photo

En español | It sounds like Easy Street: Have your car wrapped in advertising for a beverage such as Red Bull or Dr Pepper or another popular brand. Drive around as you normally would while steering what is akin to a billboard.

If you're told you could earn about $400 a week, who wouldn't be tempted to rev up their engine? That money could cover a monthly car payment — and more.

But here's a reality check: These pitches are scams, the Better Business Bureau warned this week, saying there's been an uptick in these frauds, some purportedly for brands including Utz snacks and Breyers ice cream. Some consumers are hit up multiple times a week. In a new trend, scammers also are trying to con boaters to take their bait by promising big bucks to transform vessels into floating billboards, the bureau said. Even bicycle ads are being promoted.

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To be sure, some big firms use car wrapping to drive brand awareness and help sell more stuff. But no legitimate business will do what the scammers do: After your “application” is approved, they send you a four-figure check in the mail, tell you to deposit it and then to forward most of the funds via a cash app, for example, to a technician who supposedly will do the wrapping. The work never happens. The check is a slice of phony baloney — and once the bank recognizes it, you are forced to pay back the bank in full and perhaps overdraft fees. The Better Business Bureau says banks tend to make funds from a deposited check available to you before the money is actually transferred to your account. Since finding out about a bad check can take weeks, it's best to wait 30 days before spending money from concerning checks.

As street smart as a cop

In Des Moines, Iowa, Kenneth Darryl Page, 56, who works in road construction, liked the prospect of an extra $1,600 a month. His father texted him a link to a website where Page applied to have Dr Pepper promotional ads wrapped around his 2020 Hyundai Tucson. The website, still active this week, says: “You can apply for this contract advertisement using your car for our sticker advert. Please kindly take you time and read how the advertisement car wrap work."

Phrasing and grammar a little awkward? Yes. Advert, by the way, is colloquial British for “advertisement."

People who visit the site and apply for the work are told to submit sensitive data, including date of birth and where they bank. That's a huge red flag. Don't do it.

After applying, Page received a letter postmarked in Philadelphia containing a cashier's check for $1,850.45 from a credit union in Omaha, Nebraska. All during the “deal,” he'd been texting a phone number he later traced to California. The disparate locations made him suspicious, so he drove more than two hours to try to cash the check at the Omaha credit union. There he was told the check was as worthless as funny money. And he never forwarded to the crook the $1,450 as directed to cover the wrapping.

Page is no detective. But he calls himself “very curious and very nosy and observant.” He kept good records — a “paper trail,” in his words — and felt the drive to the Omaha credit union was worth his trouble. He kept stalling the scammer saying he hadn't deposited the check. Soon the bad actor disappeared. And you guessed it: His vehicle was never “wrapped."

His advice to others? “Be overly cautious” when confronted with dubious work-from-home opportunities.

“We do not have any program offering to wrap cars in advertising graphics in exchange for compensation for any of our brands.”

— Keurig for Dr Pepper spokeswoman

Pitches for Dr Pepper car wrapping are scams, says Katie Gilroy, senior director for corporate communications Keurig Dr Pepper, its parent company. Her statement:

“We do not have any program offering to wrap cars in advertising graphics in exchange for compensation for any of our brands. This is unfortunately a scam that uses the names of popular consumer brands to get people to respond.

“If approached with such an offer, consumers should not respond and most definitely do not send or wire money or provide their bank account number, credit card number, social security number or any other personal information.”

She also urged victims to immediately notify their local law enforcement agency. 

Later in 2019, the Federal Trade Commission, a consumer protection agency, posted a blog sounding an alarm about suspect “wrapping” schemes. It said college students often are targeted and receive “wrapping” pitches in emails touting: “GET PAID TO DRIVE."

Scammers pretend you'll be advertising a well-known brand, even the Olympic Games, the FTC said. Consumers who commented on the post told of a hornet's nest of trouble, saying they'd been conned after being asked to wrap a vehicle to advertise for brands such as M&M's, Mountain Dew, Malley's chocolate and Coolhaus ice cream, among others. Said one commenter: “Just got my applicant letter and check in the mail today for Frito-Lay! Operation shredder is about to go down!"

He contacted helpline

Page, in Des Moines, alerted AARP's Fraud Watch Helpline, 877-908-3360, after nearly being defrauded.

AARP's Amy Nofziger, who oversees the helpline, says complaints about car-wrap scams rose during the pandemic as millions found themselves out of work. “These opportunities seemed like a great way to supplement family income,” she says.

It's a scam that disregards victims’ ages. “This scam can happen to anyone. … It doesn't matter if you are 25 or 85,” says Nofziger, who urges:

  • Never respond to an unsolicited email, text, phone call or other communication urging you to have your car, boat or bicycle wrapped for advertising purposes in exchange for payment.

  • Never deposit a check into your account from someone with whom you have no history and then proceed to return some funds through a cash app, gift card or other means. When the check bounces, you'll be left with a bad taste in your mouth.

Katherine Skiba covers scams and fraud for AARP. Previously she was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a recipient of Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship and is the author of the book, Sister in the Band of Brothers: Embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from beverage company Keurig Dr Pepper.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.