If you’re having car trouble, or you’ve been in a fender bender, here’s a special warning you’ll want to pay attention to.
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A look at bandit tow scams
Have you ever heard of bandit tow scams? When you’re traveling along the freeway, you may see a tow truck sitting on the side of the road just idling. Chances are that driver is waiting to ‘jump a call.’ That’s where the tow truck driver monitors a police scanner, listening for reports about an accident or stranded vehicle so they can rush to the scene and score big cash.
A few years back, Allstate cited the example of somebody being charged $1,600 for a flat tire in one bandit tow scam. $1,600 for a flat tire! That’s an extreme example just to get your attention.
More commonly, most tow scams involve what’s called ‘steering’ — where the tow truck driver leads you to a body shop they claim is great. But the shop may overinflate their prices and give the tow truck driver a cut for each stranded motorist they bring them.
In a more malicious world, you may even have your vehicle carjacked and brought to an impound facility.
‘Motorists should not be subject to predatory towing practices that result in outrageous charges and tactics, such as holding cars hostage in salvage yards until the owner or their insurance company pay what amounts to a ransom to get the vehicle returned,’ says Joe Wehrle, National Insurance Crime Bureau President and CEO.
What can you do to prevent this crime?
- If there is an accident, make sure the police are called and let them handle the towing arrangements or call a company yourself. Don’t use one that shows up “by chance.” Using a reputable company and honest provider minimizes the chances that you’ll be taken advantage of so you don’t have to pay for services that are already included. AAA and USAA are examples of two organizations that provide towing services for their members.
- Don’t give the driver your insurance information or too much personal information. Fraudulent companies will use this data to contact you and impersonate the insurance company.
- Make sure the tow truck driver creates and signs a damage report on the scene before the car goes anywhere.
- Do not sign any additional forms beyond an approval to tow the vehicle to a designated body shop.
- Know the price of the tow up front, get it in writing and obtain a copy of any paperwork from the tow truck driver. This will help to insulate you in case your car mysteriously “disappears.”
- Make sure the name on the tow truck matches the name of the company on the paperwork.
- Check with your insurer to see what is covered. Some companies have preferred providers that they work with regularly.
- Individuals who are victims of towing scams can call the local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint, as well as the fraud department or local insurance administration for the state. They should also file a police report.
- When parking in a private lot, don’t leave the premises since bandit towing companies frequently use lookouts to monitor lots. A tow truck could be there in just minutes to tow your car away.
A new model for emergency roadside assistance
Some 100 million Americans need roadside assistance every year. Now there’s an app that connects users with the quickest and cheapest options to have their car towed, have a flat fixed, get a jump and much more.
So let’s say you get a flat, or your battery dies, or you run out of gas or any of a host of other car trouble scenarios. By using this app, you can connect with a prescreened network of available towers. You’ll get a sense of price, the location of the tow trucks, the reputations of their drivers and even an estimated time of arrival!
‘Getting you going again due to the most common roadside headaches (dead battery, flat tire, running out of gas or getting locked out) costs $75,’ according to Urgent.ly’s FAQs. ‘Towing your vehicle to a location up to 10 miles away costs $99, with tiered pricing for drop-offs farther than 10 miles.’