Towing fraud takes advantage of drivers when they're most vulnerable

Stephanie Taylor Christensen

If you assume all tow truck companies are alike, you might be surprised to know that rogue towing scams are a growing concern in the United States. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that complaints in the third quarter of 2010 for inflated bills for towing and storage were 103 percent higher than in the same period of 2009. While some cities have taken steps to regulate the industry through ordinances, many have not.

Knowing the ins and outs of insurance as it relates to towing and repairs can save you money and provide peace of mind the next time you have an accident or breakdown that requires towing or repair.

What is towing fraud?

Towing fraud takes advantage of drivers in the stressful aftermath of an accident. Some fraudsters patrol highways looking for broken-down vehicles, while others monitor police scanners and then head straight to accident scenes. When a rogue tower arrives, he may tell the driver that he works with his insurance company and then obtain permission to tow the car. Then, the fraudster hits the car owner and his insurance company with sky-high fees beyond what a genuine towing service would charge.

How to protect yourself

The National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends reviewing your current auto insurance policies periodically to ensure that you understand which towing and repair costs are covered. Immediately after an accident, you may feel stressed, confused and vulnerable. Knowledge of your towing and repair policy coverage will help you think clearly and resolve the situation.

When you do need a towing service, never let one that arrives on the scene take your car without asking questions and receiving written documentation. Require the tow truck driver to produce a complete written quote of fees and services so that you can reference those costs compared with your policy's coverage.

Additionally, the National Insurance Crime Bureau suggests asking where a tow truck driver will take your car and what fees will be charged if the vehicle must be taken to a different facility. The bureau warns that towing your car to an inappropriate service location can result in fees as high as $2,000, which you'll be responsible for paying. If you do feel comfortable with the quote, Allstate advises signing right under the dollar amount quoted, not at the bottom of the document. This will help prevent the tow truck driver from later filling in extra fees above the signature.

Other tips include:

  • Requesting recommended towing vendors from police officers on the scene.
  • Making certain that the signage on a tow vehicle is identical to what's shown on quote documents.
  • Never giving tow truck drivers your auto insurance information, even if they claim to “work with” your insurance company.
  • Remembering to remove all personal property from your vehicle before handing it over for towing.

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