DENVER — Denver residents in Park Hill and Congress Park may be surprised to learn how many towing businesses are in their neighborhoods -- and not just their neighborhoods, but at their homes.
"I'm not a towing company," said Park Hill resident Shana Kirk.
But Google Maps showed otherwise.
"We were just looking for directions on Google Maps and, suddenly, we noticed on top of our house, the pin for a towing company, which we do not own," said Kirk.
On Wednesday, Google Maps showed about a dozen icons at people's homes indicating different vehicle towing businesses from just south of National Jewish Health near Colfax Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, to just east of City Park.
"We called and said, 'You know, did you know that you're using our home address as your business address and could you please correct that on Google Maps?'" Kirk said when she called the business attached to her address. "And I said, 'What is the address of your company?' And she didn't know or wasn't allowed to provide it, so I asked to have her employer identified and she hung up."
The closest thing to a tow in the neighborhood is a street sweeping sign with the words "Tow Away Zone" on the bottom.
"We called just to see what would happen if we tried to actually book a tow ourselves to our own address," said Kirk. "I stopped at just before the point where she would have asked for payment information. I didn't want to provide that."
9NEWS called four of the companies that were listed as towing businesses based at residential homes.
They each had the same 228 prefix.
Each call started with the same recorded message.
Each call had the same hold music.
Each call had a different person answer with the same company name: "24/7 Towing and Roadside."
When we called the number for "Strong Wheels Road Assistance" listed at a residence in Park Hill, we were also told we had called "24/7 Towing and Roadside."
"Never heard of Strong Wheels Road Assistance," said Scott Johnson.
You would think he would have, since Johnson lives at the address where the business is supposedly based.
"I've been here about 30 years, 32 years now, and never has there been a commercial enterprise, a towing company or any kind of company," said Johnson.
Is this a scam? Is this a legitimate towing company saturating Google Maps with multiple listings, using different names and numbers to get to the same call center to guarantee getting the business of anyone needing a tow?
We do not know.
When we called Strong Wheels Road Assistance, we asked for a tow truck to be dispatched to our Park Hill location (in front of their supposed business address). We said we would pay for a tow truck to arrive and leave, just so we could see the name on the side of the tow truck, if a tow truck was really coming.
After quoting us a price of $189, we declined.
But because they quoted a price, it is possible whatever company it really is (if it is a real company), violated a state law, according to a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
The PUC regulates towing companies. It could investigate a complaint about the towing company offering a service without first getting a permit.
"I've reported multiple times to Google Maps," said Kirk.
"I think what you need to do is interview Google," said Johnson.
We reached out to Google's media team and received a response from a spokesperson that said:
“Our team is actively investigating the issue and has already begun removing policy-violating content and disabling user accounts found to be associated with this fraudulent behavior. We have clear policies that prohibit fake contributed content, and our automated systems and trained operators work around clock to monitor Maps for suspicious behavior. We encourage our users to report misleading places and flag reviews, which helps us improve our automated detection systems and keep the information on Maps authentic and reliable.”
As of Wednesday night, the 11 towing companies we found listed in Congress Park and Park Hill had been removed from Google Maps.