A classic example of this is the case involving Set Towing, a company based in Portland Oregon and run by two young Oregon residents with dollar signs in their eyes. The law appeared to be the furthest from their minds.
The Oregonian, in a report this past winter, told the story of Marshall Rigsbee, who legally parked his car in a restaurant parking lot in order to have dinner. When he came out, his car was gone. Informed that Set Towing had hauled away his vehicle, Rigsbee called Ryan Patrick Joynt—the tow truck operator—and was told there had been a misunderstanding. But, "I could have my car back for a $100 tip," Rigsbee told the newspaper.
When he went to claim his car, Joynt allegedly upped the fee to $300 for the release of Rigsbee's 1987 BMW, which was parked in a muddy field with a half-dozen other cars sharing space with two miniature horses and a barn.
But he forked over the money anyway. Rigsbee worked two jobs and needed his car.
Motorists Told to Pay Up or Else, in Illegal Towing Scam
Police suspected that Rigsbee was but one of many illegal towing victims of a scam that had run for a few years in the metro Portland area.
An investigation spawned allegations that Joynt, who founded the towing company with his girlfriend at the time, towed cars he had no permission to remove and attempted to extort owners out of retrieval fees as high as $3,500 in one case. If owners refused to pay, Joynt threatened to seize the vehicle.
The 22-year-old former girlfriend, Anna Elizabeth Alonzo was charged with 11 felony counts. In May she was convicted on 7 counts and in June sentenced to 13 months in prison.
Joynt faced 17 felony counts and was tried in the spring. However a motion for mistrial was granted, and a new trial was scheduled for September.
Operators of illegal towing scams will often target parking lots and arrange for a paid lookout to scout for victims. Fees to release a car from impoundment are often demanded in cash, leaving no paper trail.