Downtown parking scam gets drivers' cars booted; victims forced to pay fine

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Several drivers say they are victims of a parking scam downtown.

Attorney James Jameson was running late to a hearing at the courthouse Thursday when he pulled into a parking lot on Franklin.

"I got my receipt," Jameson said, "and put it on my dashboard."

Jameson said he paid a man he thought was a parking lot attendant $7.

"He looked like a parking attendant," Jameson said, "He had an orange flag, was flagging people in."

When Jameson returned to his car a few hours later, he found his tires had been locked with metal boots. The receipt he thought was legitimate is actually from a local valet company, State Parking Services. A company representative said he was aware tickets had been stolen at times from valet stands, and that he reported those incidents to police.

Jameson is not the only victim; two other cars in the same lot had fake tickets on their dash and boots on their tires.

Michael Simon had his 4-year-old daughter in the car with him.

"It's (expletive)," Simon said. "Excuse my French, but it's bull. What kind of crap is that? Ridiculous."

Both men had to call the number on the orange tickets left on their car windows and pay the Premier Parking Enforcement agent $113 to remove the boots. That company is a subcontractor for Central Parking Systems.

A Houston police spokesman said Thursday investigators are aware of this kind of scam happening downtown. He estimated there have been several cases like these over the last month. No suspects have been arrested in the recent cases.

Jameson said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the parking lot owner.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Jameson said. "They solicited my business to come in to park on their lot."

According to Central Parking Services representative Michael Wolf, the company reports these incidents to police when they hear about them. Wolf said the best way to avoid getting scammed is to always pay a machine if there is one present instead of a person. If an attendant is on site, he will be wearing a shirt with the company logo on it. That logo will match the sign for Central Parking Services. Customers can also ask to see the receipt before they pay to make sure it bears the name of the company as well.

Houston police investigators urge any scam victims to file a police report immediately.
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