State AG’s office cracking down on tow companies that preyed on service members

Some military members returning home from long-term training and deployment have had their cars towed away, impounded, and illegally auctioned off.

Now, the state attorney general’s office is cracking down on several tow operators it says preyed on service members.

Veteran Coast Guard member Shawnee Gable is originally from Vashon Island.

While she was away at sea doing rescue training, someone borrowed her car and high-centered it. It had to be towed away.

The Washougal tow company sent an impound letter to Gable, which she didn’t see for weeks. The tow company auctioned off her Honda while she was still making payments on it.

There is a federal law protecting service members while they’re deployed or training away from home. It’s called the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, or SCRA. It requires tow companies to get a court order before selling vehicles owned by active-duty service members at auction.

“It’s disappointing that servicemembers are being preyed on like this, and I know I’m not the first case,” Gable said. “But hopefully I’ll be one of the last once the word gets out there.”

The state attorney general’s office is now fining two companies — one in Tacoma — to pay back dozens of service members who have had their vehicles towed and sold.

“I definitely hope that all active-duty military members know about these SCRA laws because I didn’t know about it until we actually found a similar case with Burns Towing in Washington state, and it was almost my case exactly,” Gable said. “That’s how we found out about it, so it’s definitely not a commonly known law.”

The state attorney general’s office is taking the fines and repaying all service members for their losses and for their time.

Tow companies are legally required to check with the SCRA website to make sure the car is not owned by a service member.