UPDATE: Since this story was first published, this company was raided and accused of fraudulent towing practices. I somehow feel somewhat vindicated, although I did lose 125.00.
Finding good parking in the Montreal is a challenge at best. It becomes extremely difficult if you do not know your way around because 80% of the parking is allocated to “permit only” parking and the remaining spots are usually taken by tourists, students, and local area workers.
Montrealers understand that parking pays for a great deal of the city infrastructure and we accept this reality. For the most part, it works well.
However, there is an ugly truth behind the system that most people are unaware of.
The ugly truth of the tow truck scam.
I started a new job in the St. Laurent area and knew that parking was going to be a bit of an issue. This area has a reputation for it.
I got lost driving here about 5 times and had to circle back onto the highway. Frustrated and constantly rushing around I had a very hard time t0 find any parking with all the construction going on. The few spots I did manage to find cost me $8.00 a day and I had to run downstairs every 2 hours to fill the meter.
To make matters worse, one day when I came downstairs, someone was trying to steal my car !
I saw a man get out of my car and it kind of startled me. At first, I thought he might have simply gotten in the wrong car. I watched him walk down the street, he got into his own vehicle and left, it was black and mine was white. There was no mistaking it, he got into my car on purpose. I could see nothing was missing, but it made me uneasy. Needless to say, this along with everything else made my first week at work extremely stressful.
By Thursday, I was running low on funds and no longer felt safe parking my car in front of my office building anymore. I decided that until my boss and I could make some alternative arrangements, I would park in the nearby shopping mall where I purchase my coffee every morning. I would have to walk fifteen minutes to get to work, but under the circumstances, I did not see that I had any other choice. I placed money in the meter on Thursday morning and went for lunch at the mall. I left my car in the mall after lunch and walked back to work.
I am not trying to rip off the city or create inconvenience for anyone, I am just trying to get to work so I could get my first paycheck and pay for full-time parking.
Running late on Friday once again, I skipped the morning coffee run, parked the car in the mall and went to work. I figured that I would go back for lunch or get a coffee on my way back home instead – this would prove to be a costly mistake.
This mall has over 25 stores, a Medical Clinic, and tons of free parking spots. What transpired next is baffling.
I decided to eat at work that day, when I arrived at the mall at the end of the day, I stopped in the Tim Horton’s, bought my daily coffee and purchased a long distance calling card from the Pharmaprix. I seemed to be getting lost way to often and felt more secure not having to worry if I had enough change to use a phone. Both of these stores are on the premises where I parked my car earlier that day. I went to get into my car only to be informed from another driver that it was towed.
He told me that he was a tourist from New York and the same thing had just happened to him.
“I went across the street to get money from the bank, got hungry and decided to have some Pizza before I came back to the mall to shop. When I got back from buying a few slices of pizzas my car was on a hoist. After several minutes of arguing with the tow truck driver, I just paid to have it removed,” he explained.
I said, how long did you leave your car, he replied, “no more than a few minutes. It cost me almost one hundred dollars. This city is not very friendly.”
Frantic, I found a tow driver and asked him, “Hey dude, where is my car?” He explained that it was towed earlier in the day.
“Towed, are you Fu@!!! kidding me,” I said, “for what?” He said that I was parked in a shopping mall and I am a not a shopper. I tried to explain to him that I was a paying customer and that I had bought my coffee and phone card here. He responded, call the number on the wall and simply drove away. Heartless.
I could see a group of men standing around laughing and watching as other tow truck drivers were arguing with customers who had their vehicles attached to the hoist waiting to be towed away. It was not hard to notice the drivers who were looking for their cars.
When I called the towing yard, they explained to me that the spots are for shoppers only and anyone who is not shopping is in violation. I said, “Well technically, I am a customer, I bought a coffee and a long distance card.”
The girl on the phone explained to me that in the morning when I arrived at the mall, she saw me leave the premises. I said to her, “I went to work and came back, but I am still a customer, I get a coffee here every day in the morning and at night. I did not think it was a big deal to park here.”
Since when are people not allowed to leave their cars and walk around the area or do something else before going into a store? I mean what if your go to the bank across the street to get your money first and walk in on the other side, how would you even know?
She replied, “We watch people coming in and out of the mall to see if you park your car and walk off the premises. As soon as someone does that, we can legally tow the car.”
This means, if you happen to park there and go across the street first to say get money to shop in the mall, they can begin to hoist your car even if you intend (ed) to come back. There is no warning and no attempt to get you not to walk away.
Stunned, I asked her, ‘How do I get my car back so I can get home. What am I supposed to do? I live in Lachute, it’s not like I can take the bus.” She told me that it did not matter anyway that I couldn’t leave the car in the lot overnight it had to be taken.
Alone in the city with no place to go and no one to call for help I was terrified. I did not even have money to get on the metro to get there. Finally, having little choice I asked where the lot was located. She gave me the address and before I hung up I asked how much it was going to cost. I had about fifty dollars left and figured at least I could get my car to get home. 125$. “Are you kidding me? I don’t have that kind of money on me right now what am I supposed to do?” She told me she would work it out with me, to take a taxi and come to the lot. What part of I do not have any money do you not understand? She then said well you are going to have to walk. She went on to explain that if my car was just hoisted I could have paid 65$ to have it removed but since it got towed, it had additional fees.
Walking there I realized that If I had gone into Tim Horton’s to buy that coffee I would not have had my car towed. That is why I did not have it towed the day before because they saw that I had gone into a restaurant to eat, so even though I had left my car there for four hours to go to work, they could not legally tow it. Ethically, this practice is debatable at best. How can the fact that someone merely walks off the premises prove they had no intention to buy something?
I also noticed that they have a monopoly over all the stores in the area. Towing signs are posted in just about every establishment from grocery stores to gas stations.
This is a warning to all people who park in malls. Make sure to at least buy a coffee and put the receipt in your car, that way you are safe from this type of scam.
Not only do the tow truck drivers make money with this scam, the taxi drivers who constantly take people to the lot also make money. The lot was 45 minutes walking away, how many people will walk it? I had no choice.
By the time I arrived there, I was furious. Not only because they took my car and I could not get home but mostly because I realized I was being scammed and there was nothing I could do about it technically I was at fault.
I wanted to secure my car and was cooperative even though I wanted to scream and yell at her but I couldn’t risk not getting my car back. This is called fear and at that moment, she had all the control. This really irritates me.
She made a deal with me explaining that I could pay the 125 later because I was stuck but that I had ten days to do so or my bill would go to collection. She told me she does not do this for everyone but that she was simply helping me out. The “I am trying to be nice,” part of the scam.
She called the dispatcher and said, receipt number XXXX, ten days. It was then that I knew they offer ten days when people are stuck because they just want the money and this was proven since they have a code for it. They are not towing cars legitimately, they are scaring people and trapping them into paying on the spot. When they cannot pay they tow it and then simply offer them the ten-day alternative.
It still did not sit well with me, but what could I do about it?
I wondered why the lot seemed unsecured and why I could not leave it overnight if I could not pay. Does this sound normal? Don’t they usually charge you for each day you have to leave the car in the lot if you did not have the money? I just wanted my car, so I was willing to agree to the ten days.
The towing company is paying individuals to sit and wait for drivers to walk off the premises thus creating a kind of “towing” trap. As soon as they can confirm it, they get the hoist under the vehicle to ensure a ticket. Surely this is not what the shop owners signed up for? This discourages customers and tourists from shopping. How is this good for the store owners, residents, nearby workers, or the Montreal’s tourism industry?
I will never buy another thing from any of the stores in that mall and I am sure the ten other people who had to fork out money for a simple walk will not either.
By the way, this “towing” practice is repeated over and over all day long. Imagine how much money is being made?
I am not certain if the city and local business owners even know that this aggressive towing is going on. Is it really justified in an area that has no parking at all? What alternatives do some people or tourists have if they simply want to take a few minutes to walk around?
In my opinion, towing a car that is in the mall overnight or someone who does this every day taking up spots in a crowded mall is justified but a one-time situation, trip across the street or a few hours walking around the town is not really a big deal.
I doubt the city is making any money on the “hoist” part of this deal, but they are probably getting towing kickbacks and probably have not noticed the fraudulent practice and aggressive nature of it.
The local merchants, tourists, workers and residents are not winning and this shows Montreal in a bad light. This is my first real experience in that neighbourhood, so far I am not impressed.