DENVER (CBS4) – Consumer complaints against Colorado towing companies are on the rise, and have been so for the last several years, with an outcry over what many consumers call predatory or aggressive towing.

“The Better Business Bureau has more ‘F’-rated towing companies than accredited towing companies, so that’s a big problem,” said BBB spokesperson Megan Herrera. “The towing industry is problematic, and we get complaints quite often.”

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According to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which regulates tow companies, it received 331 towing complaints in 2007 and 2008. That number nearly doubled to 568 consumer complaints for 2011 and 2012.

Many of those complaints emanate from the Central Colfax Corridor — the area around East Colfax Avenue and Ogden Street where the towing is particularly aggressive and unforgiving.

Two large theaters are in the vicinity, and on concert nights, there’s not nearly enough street parking nearby to accommodate all the concertgoers. Many concertgoers park in a lot outside a Blockbuster video store or a Wendy’s restaurant a block away. A spotter stands watch and if the car owner steps off the property, tow trucks are summoned. It usually only takes them a minute or two to hook up the car or SUV, and haul it away.

Vehicle owners end up having to pay about $300, cash, to get their cars or SUVs back. Many say they simply didn’t see posted warning signs in the darkness. On a recent night, Balthazar Estrada parked in the Blockbuster lot then walked across the street to a record store. He wasn’t aware that a “spotter” for Lone Star Towing was lurking in the shadows watching his every move. As soon as he left the property the “spotter” summoned a tow truck to haul away Estrada’s car.

“No, I didn’t see any signs; there’s nothing out here that says no parking,” Estrada said.

There are signs posted around the lot warning that drivers could be towed if they weren’t patronizing the Blockbuster store or the Cricket store next door. But in darkness, the signs are extremely difficult to see and read.

Denver city code calls for towing signs in private lots be “kept illuminated at night,” but that did not appear to be the case in the Blockbuster lot.

Troy Porras, President of Lone Star Towing, which is extremely active in towing in the Central Colfax Corridor, provided a written statement to CBS4 but declined to appear on camera.

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“Of course it is possible for a person whose vehicle was towed to have ‘honestly missed the signs,’ but I do not believe it is common,” wrote Porras. “No one is pleased when their car is towed, and few wish to accept responsibility for their action of parking illegally or in contravention of the property owners’ rules … there is a real lack of parking along the Central Colfax Corridor. So, the businesses located there need all of their parking spaces to adequately serve their own patrons — unauthorized/illegally parked vehicles cost them business. The public needs to understand this.”

One block west of the Blockbuster store is another controversial lot that has been the scene of frequent and disputed tows. The Wendy’s restaurant and the surrounding parking lot are owned by Troy Porras’ father, James Porras. His son’s company, Lone Star, frequently tows errant parkers out of the Wendy’s lot — to howling complaints.

“Most people know what they’re doing,” said James Porras. “We don’t like doing it but we don’t have a choice.”

The west side of his property has numerous signs posted about potential towing. But a 100-foot long fence on the north side of the property, which has 14 parking spaces, doesn’t have a single warning sign about towing. That’s where Raul Amaya parked in January, and where his car was towed from.

Amaya insists he was inside the restaurant when the tow took place, which he characterizes as “a burglar style towing.” He notes that where he parked “there were no signs … there are no signs saying you are going to get towed.”

Megan Herrera of the BBB said many of the complaints her agency received are over the perceived lack of signage.

“The most common issue that we have seen in general is that people say they are being towed and they didn’t know that they weren’t supposed to park there, that the signage isn’t clear, or the signage isn’t there. An ethical parking lot owner should have clear signage,” Herrera said.

The Public Utilities Commission is currently considering new statewide rules on towing. A portion of the proposed new regulations would call for more definition and specificity about towing signage, according to PUC spokesperson Terry Bote.

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– Written by Brian Maass for