Tow Truck Scams

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Image courtesy of [Eliza Snow] / Getty Images.

If you are involved in an auto accident, watch out for bandit tow truck operators! These crooks patrol the highways, looking for easy marks. Their favorite targets are victims of recent accidents. The following scenario demonstrates what can happen when an unsuspecting motorist encounters a crooked tow truck operator.

Example

Paul is driving home from work in a pickup truck owned by his plumbing company, Paul's Piping.

Suddenly, a hail storm blows up. Paul tries to steer the pickup to the side of the road but it skids into a telephone phone. Paul is not hurt, but the right front fender of his truck is badly dented. Because the right front tire is also damaged, the pickup is not drivable.

Paul gets out of the truck and stands at the side of the road. He is about to phone for a tow truck when one suddenly appears. Paul can't believe his luck. He expresses his gratitude to the driver who exits the truck. The driver says his name is Jim and that he works for Trusty Towing. Jim says that he can give Paul a tow. However, he needs to hurry as he's late for an appointment. He quickly attaches Paul's pickup to the towing mechanism on his truck.

Jim offers to tow Paul's pickup to Busy Bodies, a nearby body shop. Busy Bodies is owned by Jim's brother, who will give Paul a good price on repairs. Paul agrees and signs the release form Jim hands him.

Jim then hops into his truck and drives off with Paul's pickup.

It's now two weeks later and Paul is feeling neither lucky nor grateful. When Jim offered to tow Paul's pickup to Busy Bodies, he failed to mention that the shop was closed for the weekend. Thus, Paul's pickup spent the weekend parked at Trusty Towing's storage lot.

It remained there until Monday morning, when Trusty towed the pickup to the body shop. Trusty Towing is now demanding $3000 for towing and storage!

Paul is also unhappy with the body shop. When his pickup arrived at the shop Busy Bodies' owner assured Paul that the vehicle would be fixed and back in Paul's possession in a few days. He also claimed that his shop works closely with Paul's commercial auto insurer, Reliable Insurance. Neither statement was true. Paul's pickup is still awaiting repairs. Moreover, Paul has learned from the insurance adjuster handling his physical damage claim that Reliable Insurance avoids working with Busy Bodies.

According to the adjuster, Busy Bodies has a reputation for charging high prices for subpar work. The body shop stays in business by paying kickbacks to shady tow operators like Trusty Towing. Paul 's commercial auto policy does not provide towing coverage for trucks. Paul is now in a heated dispute with Trusty over the $3000 charge for towing and storage. Paul desperately needs his truck back. However, the owner of Busy Bodies won't complete the repairs until Paul pays his brother for the towing and storage.

Crooked Tow Truck Operators

Shady two truck operators use various methods to find potential victims.

Like Trusty Towing, some drive up and down highways looking for recent accidents. Others learn about accidents by listening to police scanners. Once an illicit operator hears of an accident, he or she drives to the scene. The operator then convinces a vehicle owner to allow the operator to tow the damaged vehicle.

Like Jim, the operator might recommend a body shop where the vehicle owner can get a "special deal."  Alternatively, the operator might make a pretense of towing the vehicle to the body shop designated by the vehicle owner. In reality, the operator tows the vehicle to a storage yard or body shop that is owned by, or in cahoots with, the tow operator. Like Paul, the criminals then charge the vehicle owner (or the owner's insurer) exorbitant storage and/or repair fees.

How to Protect Yourself From Scams

Like the criminals involved in vehicle cloning and faked auto accidents, shady two truck operators are opportunists.

 Here are some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of a towing scam. These tips are intended for drivers involved in non-injury accidents. If you are injured in an accident, seek medical attention and let the police handle the towing.

  • Call the police immediately if you are involved in an accident.
  • Call your insurer to report the accident.
  • If you have access to roadside services through your insurer, an auto club or some other source, ask the provider to send a tow truck. Record the name and phone number of the tow company.
  • If you don't have access to roadside services, ask the police to send an authorized tow truck. Be sure to get the name of the tow company.
  • Don't accept a tow from any tow truck operator that appears at an accident scene unless the operator has been summoned by you, the police or your roadside service provider. Don't let the driver pressure you into signing any paperwork.
  • Don't share your insurance information with the tow truck driver. 
  • Instruct the driver where you want your vehicle towed. Make sure that location is clearly stated in the release form.
  • Don't let the tow truck driver decide where to take your vehicle. If you are unfamiliar with body shops in the area ask your insurer for advice.
  • Make sure that all towing charges are clearly stated in the release form before you sign it.
  • Make sure that the towing company's name and address are stated in the release form. The name on the form should match the name on the company's tow truck.