National Consumer Protection Week Announcement # 4:
NJ Division of Consumer Affairs Cracks Down on
Predatory Towing; Files First Lawsuit of Its Kind
NEWARK - The Office of the Attorney General and the Division of Consumer Affairs have taken action against three North Jersey towing companies, including filing a civil lawsuit against one, alleging illegal predatory towing practices.
The lawsuit filed against PPM Towing, Inc., a Maplewood-based firm, is the first Superior Court action filed by the state under the Predatory Towing Prevention Act that was enacted in April, 2009. The three-count Complaint, filed in Elizabeth, also alleges that PPM Towing violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by engaging in unconscionable commercial practices related to its towing of vehicles from a private parking lot in Union Township.
The Complaint charges PPM Towing with unlawfully using “spotters” to case the parking lot and target towing opportunities; demanding payment from vehicle owners as a condition to unhooking vehicles that had yet been removed from the parking lot; demanding cash payments; and charging consumers for the time needed for them to obtain the cash to free their vehicles. The lawsuit also alleges that the lot’s signage failed to properly advise consumers about towing by omitting certain required information.
“We allege this towing company played by its own rules, and violated our predatory towing law, without regard to the legal rights of drivers,” Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. “We’re putting all predatory towers on notice – follow the law or face legal action.”
Additionally, as part of a separate investigation, two Jersey City towing companies and their owners entered into settlements with the Division for similar predatory practices. Gary Matarazzo of EZ Towing and Recovery, Inc., and Daniel E. Johnson of Danny’s Towing, Inc., each signed Consent Orders agreeing to, among other conditions, cease and desist from all predatory towing practices. The Consent Orders further obligate the companies to submit to binding arbitration with respect to all outstanding consumer complaints, and for any disputed consumer complaints filed with the Division within the next year. Each company also agreed to pay the Division $19,123.00, to include civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and investigative costs.
“It is completely unacceptable, nearly two years after the state’s Predatory Towing Prevention Act went into effect, for any towing company to be running roughshod over consumers and their rights,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Let it be known: the days of towing companies casing out parking lots, hijacking someone’s vehicle, and holding it for a cash ransom while authorities quietly stand by, are over.”
Consumers should know the law. The Predatory Towing Prevention Act prohibits towing companies from the following:
- Failing to release a vehicle hooked or lifted, but not actually removed from private property, upon request of the vehicle’s owner;
- Trolling (cruising) for vehicles parked without authorization;
- Paying for information about vehicles parked without authorization;
- Refusing to accept an insurance company check or a debit card, charge card, credit card or check for towing or storage services, if the towing company ordinarily accepts such payment at its place of business;
- Charging for a towing or storage service not on the Division’s schedule of services; and
- Charging an unreasonable or excessive fee.
A consumer education brief that highlights these and other key features of the Predatory Towing Prevention Act has been produced by the Division of Consumer Affairs and can be read online at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/brief/towing.pdf.
Attorney General Dow thanked the Police Departments of Union Township and Jersey City for sharing with the Division of Consumer Affairs consumer complaints regarding the towing of vehicles.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Koziar of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section is representing the state in this action, assisted by investigators from the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection.
NATIONAL CONSUMER PROTECTION WEEK (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. NCPW 2011 takes place March 6 through 12, 2011.
More information designed to help consumers protect themselves is offered free of charge at the State Division of Consumer Affairs NCPW website at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov. Information is also available at the official National Consumer Awareness Week website, www.NCPW.gov.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
PPM Towing Complaint