Legislation went into effect in 2012 prohibiting "spotters." Those are employees hired by towing companies to stake out a certain location and look for cars they can haul away.
"Somebody who just stands on the street or hides in a garage or building just waiting on someone to walk off the property, one false step, waiting for someone to exceed the limit by one minute," Eric Friedman, an investigator with Montgomery County's Office of Consumer Protection, tells NBC Washington.
NBC Washington's investigative team watched as spotters perused the lots at Blairs Shopping Center in Silver Spring. Signs are posted around the parking lot saying "Walk Offs Will be Towed," which means drivers can't park in the lot and leave the property.
Moments after drivers left the property, spotters snapped photos of the car and towed them in many cases. In one instance, the spotters incorrectly identified a man leaving and towed his car though he was legally parked there.
According to Friedman, spotters are most active in areas around shopping malls.
"A lot of consumers don't realize that somebody is watching them in many cases," Friedman tells NBC Washington.
NBC Washington reports at least one company, G&G Towing, is suing the state, claiming the law is unconstitutional and oppressive.
Drivers who suspect they have fallen victim to a spotter should report the incident.
Watch a video of the NBC Washington report below:
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