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Bandit Tow Trucks Are Basically Stealing Cars At The Scenes Of Fender Benders
Getting in a car wreck is already terrible, but now there's another thing to worry about: having your car towed by a bandit tow truck driver who will charge you thousands to get it back.
Police are warning drivers in Los Angeles against the scam, LA Weekly reports, saying that they get as many as five calls a day about the issue.
Typically, the scam occurs after someone is involved in some sort of minor crash and a tow truck shows up. The driver will make up some reason for why he's there, such as the airbags or OnStar alerted the motorist's insurance company, who called him. They'll tell the motorist, who is likely frazzled and not thinking clearly, that their insurance is footing the bill for the tow and they just have to sign off on it.
The tow company has nothing to do with the insurance company, however.
"The drivers may say they will take the vehicle to a location of the owner's choice, but they then take it to an undisclosed body shop that is paying them a kickback," Doreen Sanchez, a special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau said in a release. "In addition to the exorbitant towing charges, the body shop will add on storage fees while the vehicle sits there as the owner and the insurance company are left in the dark as to where it was taken. All of this is designed to maximize the bill to the consumer."
When you finally figure out where you car is, your bill could be as high as $4,000 for the tow and various fees.
LAPD Detective Joseph Yamzon explains in a National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) video about the scam that these drivers often monitor police radio frequencies to find minor accidents. It's technically illegal for a tow truck driver to try show up to an accident and try to sell their services, though you can flag a passing one down if you need one. It's the agreement that the tow companies trick the victims into signing that can help them get away with it.
Police will occasionally try to get the cars back and sometimes, the companies will return them to avoid the hassle. Other times, however, the police won't be able to do anything because of the agreement the victims signed.
Right now, police know that they typically target nicer cars that would be worth the fee to get back. Other than that, there doesn't seem to be a particular pattern. However, investigators are looking for victims to call in and report these events as they're working on setting up future stings.
If you are in an accident and no one is injured, LAPD is recommending that you call the police, your insurance company or motor club (something like AAA) and get an authorized towing company to come. Do not accept a tow from a tow truck driver you did not request, and if you have doubts that a particular driver is the one you called, call back and check. Do not sign any paperwork that doesn't clearly state where your car is being towed and how much it will cost. Take photos of the scene, damage, tow truck and driver. If you are injured, you can let the police handle the towing.
Anyone who may have encountered one of these bandit tow truck drivers is encouraged to call the LAPD Tow Complaint Hotline at (323) 680-4TOW. You can also call the NICB hotline at 1-800-TEL-NICB for insurance fraud issues.