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Friday, October 30, 2009

WA Tow Company Accused Of Offering Incentives For Impounds

Here's the story from
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. -- Some businesses claim a tow company offered them rewards in exchange for impounds.

Businesses say they were offered gift cards for coffee, spa day, discount chains and gasoline all in exchange for a vehicle they could impound.

Apartment managers and towing competitors say not only is it wrong, they think it's down right predatory.

"It's unethical. It's wrong. It's not how I was raised," said Jennifer Bart on of Greenview Apartments.

Barton says a driver for Shannon Towing, Inc. drove by Greenview Apartments in Mountlake Terrace and left her with a flier.

The flier stated Barton could earn gift cards if she would call Shannon Towing with impounds. The more impounds she requested, the more she could make in gift cards, it said.

Three impounds would buy her a $50 gift card to her favorite coffee shop or nail salon. Nine impounds would earn her $250 in gift cards for anything, from gasoline to her favorite discount store, according to the flier.

"It just seemed unethical. Here -- you have this many cars towed, and we'll give you this as a present?" said Barton.

"You can't compete with that," said Tina Beck, who owns Mary's Towing in Everett.

Beck contacted KOMO News when she started losing clients to Shannon Towing in Lynnwood.

"We've definitely had to go in and talk with managers who are considering something like this and convince them our customer service speaks for itself," she said.

Beck said she found out about Shannon Towing's deal when two of her clients wrote her, skeptical of the offer.

"I don't think it's right," said Rolfe Johnson, former president of the state's Towing & Recovery Association.

The interest organization believes state laws prohibit monetary incentives and strongly discourages its members from offering such plans. At best, Johnson calls Shannon's practice an "unfair business practice."

At Shannon Towing, a representative denied having ever seen the flier, even though its name is clearly printed on the piece of paper.

"I've never seen one of these," said a Shannon Towing employee named "Brandt," who described himself as the "main guy" in the office. Brandt refused to provide his surname.

When asked how that was possible given that four different managers told KOMO News Shannon drivers had approached them with the fliers, Brandt said, "I have no idea."

Brandt said no one on his staff is responsible for the flier, and said a competitor may be behind the work.

One of the company's drivers seen hanging "Shannon-Towing-Away-Zone" signs in a local strip mall also swore he knows nothing.

"No, not off hand," he said. The driver added he'd never before seen the flier.

But another apartment manager said a driver for Shannon Towing on Wednesday offered her the same deal Barton was presented with.

In Johnson's eyes, something doesn't add up.

"We believe this is highly questionable. We think this should be directed to WSP (Washington State Patrol)." he said.

In a written statement, Towing & Recovery Association of Washington's Director Mike Walcker urged Washington State Patrol to fully investigate.

And state patrol agrees an inquiry is necessary.

"This doesn't smell right," said Capt. Jeff DeVere.

WSP, which oversees towing companies, has asked prosecutors to review the case and determine whether the reward program violates state law.

The agency, as well as KOMO News, will report on the findings of their work.

Anyone with concerns about a towed car can challenged the impound in court.

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