Feb 22

Not seeking sympathy but very interested in comments from folks who have been burned by this parking/towing scam. Here’s the tldr; version of what happened today:

Take a poorly marked parking lot that was just converted to being a paid lot, an electronic centralized meter that gives one no way to know or prove whether payment went through and an aggressive towing company that makes $135 per carcass and you get what is from my perspective a shady money-making racket that extorts patrons and kills local merchants (and potentially enriches the property owner but that part I can’t prove yet).

For the longer more Woodward & Bernstein version watch the following video. This is a compilation of footage i shot today from my phone showing the poorly marked lot, an interview with the owner of the coffee shop and an undercover session where I’m getting strong-armed at the tow company. I’ve already attempted to dispute the towing charge with my cc processor but it has to clear before they can lodge that complaint. I will update this post with the outcome of that effort once they come to a verdict for anyone interested. I attempted to file a police report as a stolen vehicle when the towing occurred the but the lady at the police dept informed me if it was towed it was a civil mater and I would need to take issue with the company that handles the meter.

The key two questions here are:

  1. “is there a financial relationship between the property management company such that they make more on towing fee kickbacks than on the metered parking fees?”
  2. “if so, is the a) awareness that it’s a paid lot and b) payment experience for the well-intending patron intentionally degraded to yield a better profit for the towing company and prop mgmt co?”

I admittedly have zero way of proving this hypothesis today but from talking with various people lingering in the lot and judging based on what I experienced, I’m highly suspicious. Certainly from a pure game theory perspective and analysis of the factors present, that hypothesis makes sense. If that is in fact the case, then this is a super shady racket and people should blow the whistle if they have access to any documented info that proves this to be the case. Anyways, I don’t expect to learn the answer anytime soon nor do I expect the property management guy who had a chance to right the situation today to ever admit that it’s true. Anyways, evaluate the facts and draw your own conclusions. And if you have anecdotal evidence to add of your own, leave it in a comment.

Here are some useful links:

  • SWAT Towing Company google result (they don’t have a website). Notice how many complaints pop up.
  • Website of the Vue on Apache complex
  • Property management company for the Vue
  • Forms for lodging a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General and City of Tempe. If you’ve been extorted or have substantive evidence of shady kickback arrangements between property management companies and towing companies in AZ contact one of the investigative journalism teams.
  • Lastly, here are some interesting photos:
    Gallery is empty!
    Anyways I spent way too long on this already but I figure writing this post and publishing the vid would at least air the issue out there and provide a place for others to comment if they’ve been victim of a similar scam.

    If you have been fleeced or know of friends who have been hit by parking scams in Tempe, share this link and have them leave a comment here describing their situation. If enough legitimate stories amass here I will share this with authorities and urge them to hold the offending entities accountable. thx

    UPDATE 3/13: As expected SWAT was never able to produce photos they claimed they had that proved the meter was expired. I recorded this phone call with them. The lady seemed to take genuine delight in encouraging me to call back tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day… weirdly enough at the end of the call she thought it was a total bluff when I told her I had recorded it. This company is truly awful. I’m awaiting to hear the result of my dispute with Citibank Mastercard and will update this post accordingly once I hear back.

    8 Responses to “Shady private parking and towing practices in Tempe”

    1. ChrisK says:

      12 For Action? This stuff has been going on for decades. They like to tow at places when the business are clearly closed and people are using the spaces after hours as well.

    2. Chris K says:

      You should take the time and complain to the city about this. Go to a city council meeting. Towing company is a joke. Maybe we can get some chairs and pay everyone's meters for an afternoon. That meter should be illegal. Plain and simple. They want to take in revenue but not maintain the machine.

      • Sean Tierney says:

        Chris, fully intend to. I wanted to see what stories amass here first. Already learned about this one via my Tweet earlier: http://www.phoenixrealestateguy.com/scam-alert-te

        I was thinking about camping out in that lot for another reason- i was just going to count the number of tows and see if the tow trucks truly "poach" like the store owner suspects. He thinks they just circle like vultures waiting to swoop down on meters just as they expire. super shady.

    3. I would definitely send this to all the local news channels and see if you can get them to take up the story. Having watched just one episode of the towing shows on TV (parking wars and all that crap), i'm 100% certain it's an insanely lucrative business and 99% sure that they kick back some sheckles to anyone they get "tips" from.

    4. Ben Wagner says:

      Sean, not Tempe but your story made me want to commiserate as I think (know) this happens all over the country. It's a whole shady industry.

      A few years ago I was in Chicago, right next to Wrigley Field, and pulled into a parking lot ready to get some lunch. There was only a lot attendant hut with the price of parking in a big red sign above the roof. Problem was, there was no attendant. I parked and waited about 15 min. thinking the guy must be in the bathroom or something but nobody ever arrived. So, I chose the restaurant directly across the street and sat so that I could see the lot and the hut.

      It was a busy place so it took about 15-20 min. to go through the whole ordering/getting food process. Right as my food arrived, a tow truck swung into the parking lot and jacked up that car. The waiter, looking out the window with me as I uttered a bunch of expletives, said "Yeah, man, they got you. They sit around the corner for this".

      So, I ran out there and the tow truck guy says "You didn't pay, you've gotta go". I pointed at the empty attendant hut and pointed out the obvious "There is nobody to pay! Nobody has been there for over half an hour and I've been waiting to pay!". His answer: "Not my problem, we don't own the lot we just service it. If you've got a problem, take it up with my boss". With that he handed me a card with an address and drove away with the car.

      My first instinct, for a split second, was to say "Screw it, it's a rental and you can take up stealing one of their cars with Hertz". Then the realization that my luggage and laptop were in the trunk intruded – end of that plan.

      It was an $80 cab ride to the distant impound lot and at that point our stories merge: sign here, buddy. Whatever is true doesn't matter. They even made me sign a document saying specifically that I would not charge back through my credit card company.

      End result was that I did charge back through the credit card company and used the key word "Fraud". I encourage you to do the same. Charges were reversed (I ate the cab ride). My guess is that they play a numbers game of anticipating that only a small percentage of people will fight them after the fact.

      My only additional question to yours above is: how hard is it to own both the property and the towing company under different corporate names? Not difficult at all, of course. I'm not saying I know this to be true by any means, in Tempe or anywhere else, but it sure seems like a hand-in-glove proposition to make the money off either the meter or the tow.

      Good luck, Ben.

    5. Lynn says:

      Had a recent towing myself. Always suspect of the connection between the HOA and the towing company. Told them of a flight in one hour. Delayed the process and and danced a life sized, doll head at the door way as if she were the hired help. I began videotaping the "help" when they wouldn't come to the window.
      I had a pass on my car and my receipt said I had the "wrong pass". The HOA has a contract and invites them in. I'll share the video when I can download it.

    6. Justin says:

      Just saw on 12 news, The AG just took down Sun Valley Towing. Was a different flavor of fraud, but not that different. It demonstrates how the valley seems rife with towing scams and predators.

    7. virtual card says:

      Sean, not Tempe but your story made me want to commiserate as I think (know) this happens all over the country. It's a whole shady industry.

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