Would you like to be shot before you shop?

Malls use cameras to come up with an innovative solution to catch car owners who demand compensation after making false claims that valet drivers have damaged their vehicles

On September 17, a middle-aged man drove into SoBo Central Mall in Tardeo, and gave his Hyundai i10 to the valet to park. A few hours later, as he went to retrieve his car, he lost his cool. He accused the valet driver of leaving the car with a dent at the rear end. He asked the mall authorities to pay up, or he would approach the police.

However, 20 minutes later, he drove out of the mall without a word. He was shown CCTV footage of his car that uncovered his lie. The dent had been there when he drove in.

For SoBo Central's security manager Hemant Shikre, this is not new. Malls across the city have reported an increase in the number of such incidents of false claims of damage and reimbursement, leading mall authorities to come up with innovative solutions to tackle difficult customers.
"We issue a receipt to car owners who want to use the valet service to park their cars at the mall. We have been doing so since the mall re-opened in 2009. However now, the valet driver also makes a note of all external damages on the car, before parking it. We have placed CCTV cameras in the parking lot, so that we don't pay false claims."

The story is no different in the suburbs.

Nitin Khatti, valet parking manager at HyperCity Mall, Malad said, "Every weekend, we get at least five cases of car owners who lay false claims and demand reimbursements from us, even though the damage has not been caused by us."

And while Khatti admits that they  may have damaged a car or two in the past due to negligence, the number of false claims has spiralled out of control recently.

 "There have been cases of our valet drivers damaging the car while parking. We have always reimbursed the owners, keeping in mind the mall's reputation. However, I think that car owners have begun to take advantage of this. Earlier, with no proof, we have got into heated arguments, and my security men have even been roughed up."

Not anymore. Since last month, the valet personnel and supervisor on duty have begun to take photographs of cars that approach them for parking.
After the car owner hands over the car to valet, it is photographed to keep a record of the dents and scratches on the chassis.

What's more, car owners are even handed a slip on which a valet personnel has marked out the dents and scratches.

"Our personnel have been given a camera with an 8 GB memory to take pictures of the cars," says Khatri.

Brijesh Yadav, a security personnel at the HyperCity mall, who takes pictures of the cars said, "People still approach us for false reimbursements, but now we have a solid proof to prove our innocence."

The camera is charged thrice a day, and the pictures taken are preserved in their system for three days.

On weekdays, Yadav photographs a minimum of 50 cars, but on weekends, the number can go up to as many as 400 cars.

Inorbit Mall in Malad follows a similar policy of informing customers about the state of their cars before they are handed over to the valet, says Ajay Varma, parking manager at Inorbit.

Prakash Howal, parking manager at Oberoi Mall, Goregaon said they have adopted a similar system, and it has worked in their favour. 

Car owners have mixed feelings about this new practice.

Ranveer Patil, a 24 year-old marketing professional and a regular at SoBo Central Mall said, "I would be uncomfortable if someone clicked pictures of my car and the number plate. These days photographs can land up anywhere and be misused later."

However, 46 year-old management consultant Anand Ghurye, who visits HyperCity mall on the weekends, said, "I am okay with the rule. This would avoid a lot of confusion and unnecessary confrontation. Besides, the parking personnel are simply doing their duty."

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