Silver Spring, Md. (WUSA9) A WUSA9 hidden camera investigation has stopped an illegal towing operation at one of Montgomery County's most popular shopping centers.
"Oh, my God," exclaimed one victim in shop as she realized she'd been towed. "My van, my voyager."
For updates on this story, or if you've been towed here, contact Investigative Reporter Russ Ptacek at WUSA9, on Twitter or Facebook.
Our cameras recorded G&G tow trucks hooking up cars so quickly at Downtown Silver Spring Center, the cars' owners, a few feet away in a storefront restaurant, had no idea what happened until their cars were already on the hook.
"I've been coming back and forth putting money in putting money in the whole time," said one victim as she pled with the driver to release her car. "I didn't know there was an hour limit."
Montgomery County Police and Consumer Affairs officers helped WUSA9 get the woman's car released and forced the towing operation shut down.
The undercover investigation identified more than 50 victims over a three month period on a private road along the intersection of Georgia Ave and Colesville Rd that is part of Downtown Silver Spring Center.
Hidden camera video shows one tow truck driver monitoring marking tires of cars parked at the shopping center's privately owned parking meters and another who returns two hours later to tow.
All three victims who spoke with WUSA9 were from out of state, as were half of the victims identified by county records of tows at the location.
Brie Jackson, who has South Carolina tags, blew the whistle on the towing by notifying WUSA9 on Facebook.
"Please help prevent others from being improperly towed and losing money," Jackson wrote. "Dozens of drivers were improperly towed while G&G towing made thousands of dollars."
G&G towing did not respond to calls for comment and threatened to file trespassing charges against us when we went to their Rockville tow lot for answers.
Montgomery County Consumer Affairs Director Eric Friedman says towing victims are due refunds ruling the towing was illegal, predatory, and aggressive.
"The signs must state all parking restrictions," Friedman said. "These generic signs do not state that you will be towed if the meter is expired. "
Although he says there is no law specifically covering private parking meters on private property, there are plenty of laws requiring much bigger, clearer signs.
Friedman said the towing operation failed the most basic of towing requirements because signs, which were across the street from where victims we spoke with were parked, were markedly smaller than the required size of 24 by 30 inches.
Another issue that confused consumers was that the meters would accept several hours worth of coins and record them on the meter clock, while the tow company was enforcing the one hour limit.
Downtown Silver Spring officials immediately suspended towing when contacted by WUSA9, and say drivers were given a grace period.
Officials deny towing any cars that still had time on the clock.
The shopping center has agreed to make refunds to victims.
To get a refund, you can contact Montgomery County Consumer Affairs and let us know here at the station.
In addition to suspending towing and offering refunds, Downtown Silver Spring is working with consumer affairs officials to improve signage and has added new larger signs and labeling at each meter.