A warning about Safeguard towing of Portland

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The Oregonian revealed last week that Safeguard is towing cars and asking up to $900 to release them. It’s not legal, and if you are someone you know has their car towed by Safeguard, Oregon State Senator Mark Hass of Beaverton can help to get your car returned. Here’s a copy of the full article posted to Oregonlive.com:

“In early April, a rock band from Southern California had its van and trailer towed from the Sunstone Parc Apartments in Beaverton.

When the college-aged musicians arrived at the storage lot on Easter morning, they were charged $938 in cash to reclaim their vehicle, including $200 for a “missed appointment.” That piracy forced the band, Culprit, to cancel the last four dates on its tour.

In late December, Chris Vetter’s ’98 Ford Taurus was towed from the Emerald Apartments in Beaverton, where it was legally parked.

The towing company — the same towing company, mind you — first conceded it made a mistake, Vetter says, then changed its mind. When the Taurus was finally returned, thanks in part to the intervention of Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, Vetter says thousands of dollars worth of stereo equipment was missing, as were his sunglasses and jumper cables.

“They took my car. They promised to return the car. They reneged on that promise. They jacked up the fees. And they stole everything out of the car with no fear of consequence,” Vetter said.

Why is this predatory towing happening all too frequently in Washington County?

Safeguard Towing.

A company that is operating illegally in the state, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Why are these towing horror stories occurring far less often inside the Portland city limits?

“Portland has me,” Marian Gaylord says.

Bingo. Gaylord is the city’s towing coordinator. She knows the rules and the players. She is direct, knowledgeable and persistent, a superb resource for anyone who has ever stood stranded on a dark street at night, muttering, “Where the heck is my …”

Believe it or not, Gaylord says, the Legislature enacted laws to curb the worst abuses in private-property impound towing: “The problem is that Beaverton doesn’t have the manpower or the will to closely enforce this stuff.”

Beaverton is hardly alone.

Safeguard Towing is parked in unincorporated Washington County. It is no longer permitted to do business in Portland, abandoning town when Gaylord demanded proof of insurance.

Safeguard — which did not return calls — has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau, which lists 21 unresolved complaints.

Safeguard is not properly licensed to do business with either ODOT or the Secretary of State’s office.

“They are not currently legal to operate as a towing company in Oregon,” said ODOT’s Sally Ridenour. “They don’t have liability insurance on file. If someone’s vehicle is damaged, there’s no insurance for the consumer to go after.”

And yet Safeguard’s trucks continue to cruise the parking lots of Washington County, beyond the reach, apparently, of the rule of law.

“I am frankly stunned,” says Andrew Fulda, the Pennsylvania-based father of Culprit’s lead guitarist, “that this piracy is allowed to take place, and for so long.”

Thanks to Gaylord, the laws are enforced in Portland. She tracks the permitting process. “If someone thumbs their nose at us,” she says, “we have the means to go after them.”

Outside the city limits, however, companies like Safeguard seemingly have free rein to overcharge or rip off vehicle owners who don’t have the means to fight back.

“I let them know, foolishly, that I was economically vulnerable,” Vetter says. “Those are the people they prey on.”

In a bad economy, impound towing is frightfully lucrative. When the appalling retrieval fees approach the value of the vehicle, down-on-their-luck owners often walk away, allowing the towing companies to fence the scrap metal and stereo equipment.

“You have a company here that for all intents and purposes isn’t being regulated,” Vetter said. “They’ve slipped through the cracks because there’s no obvious reward for someone to take them on.”

Fulda is disgusted with Safeguard. “But I’m maddest,” he added, “at the state of Oregon. These (towers) are bullies, and bullies will continue to operate until some sort of retribution is laid down on them.”

To curtail predatory towing, the Legislature could cap towing charges, award triple damages against the bad guys and follow California’s lead in preserving the rights of the vehicle owner.

Heck, we could even clone Marian Gaylord.

But until the state and local governments commit to operating with her diligence in defense of the law, the rampage of the bullies in the Safeguard trucks will continue.”

— Steve Duin. The Oregonian.

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