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San Francisco accuses car towing company of fraudulently towing cars of ‘vulnerable individuals’

A car is towed after parking illegally in front of a residence in San Francisco on Jan. 13, 2022. | Source: Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A San Francisco towing company could be debarred from receiving city contracts after allegedly illegally towing cars and deceiving car owners with fraudulent signage at a Portola District bank, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced Thursday.

In a debarment request filed Monday, Chiu alleged that Auto Towing LLC towed cars of “vulnerable individuals” and installed signs at a Bank of the West parking lot without consent from the property owner from February to May of this year.

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Chiu alleges that the towing company illegally towed at least six cars from the parking lot located at 2675 San Bruno Ave., with the owners primarily being Spanish- and Cantonese-speaking residents. One car listed in the request was towed from an accessible parking space despite having a disabled parking placard displayed.

Even the bank’s branch manager was almost towed out of the parking lot before she intervened, Chiu’s request alleges.

Once people’s cars were towed, Chiu alleges that the company limited car owner’s times to pick up their car and pressured them to pay in cash only, which violates state law. 

“Having a car unjustly towed is a nightmare for any driver,” said Chiu. “Auto Towing intentionally misled and scammed vulnerable people out of hundreds of dollars. Our city has no interest in contracting with exploitative businesses engaged in illegal conduct.”

Additionally, the sign installed in the bank’s parking lot listed the company’s permitted operation location, but Auto Towing allegedly towed cars to a different company lot, which made it harder for people to find and retrieve their cars.

Chiu affirmed that vehicle owners have the right to retrieve their cars 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can pay with major credit cards or cash.

Auto Towing previously submitted a bid for a city contract to serve as a towing service and roadside assistance provided for city-owned cars and buses, but has yet to be awarded a contract.

If the debarment request is granted, the company is banned from applying for or receiving city contracts for the next five years.

Chiu encourages anyone who believes they had “relevant interactions” with Auto Towing to contact his office at 415-554-3977.

In response to the debarment request, the company’s legal team issued the following statement: “Auto Towing LLC is a Latina-owned towing company in a male-dominated SF towing industry that towed the cars at issue pursuant to a contract with Bank of the West dated June 25, 2018.”