Having to pay a fine for a car boot can be a negative experience for many student vehicle–owners, but fraudulent boot fines are arguably worse.
The Austin Transportation Department released a memo last week stating the possibility of an illegal boot scam in East Austin. Alan Goodwin, a detective with the Austin Police Department, said he knows of two separate reported fraudulent booting incidents. Both occurred along 6th Street, within a block of each other.
While those are the only two reports he’s seen so far, Goodwin said it is possible other people have been victimized and haven’t filed police reports. Goodwin said APD has a suspect description of two younger white men driving a silver car with no license plate number.
The memo advised car owners to look out for notices placed on their cars telling vehicle owners to call private numbers to get the boot removed.
According to the memo, a city–issued boot is accompanied by a notice directing the owner to the number of Austin Municipal Court. Goodwin said the city only boots cars on public roads if there are multiple unpaid traffic citations, although private towing companies are authorized to boot cars on private properties.
Goodwin said city employees also will never demand or accept cash payment on the street, as all public fines are paid through the court. Employees applying the boot will be dressed in uniform and use larger boots that are typically marked or numbered.
“The boot that the city is going to use is big enough to stop a dump truck,” Goodwin said. “The ones they are using in the scam look like little pinchers that they’re buying off Amazon.”
John Ketterer, a Plan II and civil engineering freshman, said he was booted by a private towing company last semester. Ketterer said the experience was frustrating and shared by many college students.
“It really came out of nowhere,” Ketterer said. “As a college student I have better things to worry about than getting a $200 boot. The fact that they were waiting there to take my money just felt really unfair in the moment.”
Ketterer said getting scammed is a scary possibility and can blur the lines of the law.
“It’s a crime, it’s fraudulent, and it really undermines the purpose and legitimacy of booting a car,” Ketterer said. “If I were to get booted again, it could be hard to tell what’s a real boot, what’s a fake boot.”
Dennis Delaney, a University Parking and Transportation Services manager, said campus booting occurs after students rack up four or more unpaid citations, or one citation that’s been unpaid for 120 calendar days.
Delaney said PTS enforcers will also not boot until they send students citation notices and put imminent boot warnings on windows.
“We don’t just go out and do this willy–nilly,” Delaney said. “We only boot (students) if we’ve done everything in our power to let them know.”
Goodwin said he hopes the situation will resolve itself soon, something the media could help with.
“I would love to catch somebody doing it,” Goodwin said. “But failing that, I would just like it to stop. Hopefully the public information that’s been put out there is enough.”