4 Towing Scams and How to Avoid Them – and Fight Back

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September 26, 2016

For many Americans, a vehicle is like a second home. When it is involved in an accident or breaks down, the next step towards getting it back on the road is to call a towing company. Although the majority of towing companies are reputable and honest, some may try to scam consumers. From inflated rates to fictitious fees, there are several ways that dishonest companies take advantage of unassuming consumers.

Steering: With this type of scam, a towing firm shows up quickly after an accident without being contacted. They find out about crashes through police scans. The at-fault driver may be in on the scam as well, and he or she will try to convince the victim to have the vehicle taken to a body shop that the towing company recommends. Steering is an illegal activity in most states.

Fee Inflation: Some towing companies may inflate their fees beyond a person’s auto policy limit or beyond a warranty reimbursement limit. This forces the individual to pay out of pocket. Always call a few towing firms to compare rates before choosing one. Be suspicious of firms that ask for information about policy limits.

Patrol Towing: With this scam, a towing company has one or more spotters who look for parking violators. The spotters notify the company, and the company quickly tows the offending vehicle to an impound lot. The impound company and the towing company may both try to charge inflated rates.

Gate Fees and Labor Fees: Labor fees and gate fees are both scams. These charges are implemented to release a vehicle to an owner. Another possible fraudulent fee is a release fee. It is illegal in most states to charge a gate fee, a labor fee or a release fee.

How to Fight Back

There are several ways to avoid becoming a victim of an unscrupulous towing company. These are some helpful tips for staying safe: 
  • Join AAA’s roadside assistance program (contact your agent).
  • Never use a towing company that just shows up after an accident.
  • Never rely on a towing company’s recommendation for a body shop.
  • Do not sign any other approval forms aside from the one authorizing the tow.
  • Make sure that all blanks are filled in on a towing form before signing it.
  • Ask for a price list from the towing company before signing an agreement.
  • If there is an accident, get a copy of a damage report from the towing company at the scene of the accident.
  • Always use a credit card to pay for charges in the event that any charges must be disputed.
  • Do not provide insurance information to the towing company.
  • Take a photo of the towing scene and the company’s vehicle.
  • In the event of a scam, file a complaint with the police or the BBB.
It is important for consumers to know their rights. There are state laws in place to protect people if a vehicle is towed while the owner is away. Operators must leave a sign at the scene with the towing company’s name, phone number, address, who requested the tow and the reason for towing. Also, towing firms must take a photo of a car that is parked illegally. Ask for proof of this from a towing company if a vehicle was towed while shopping or while conducting a similar errand. In most states, the towing operator must release the vehicle even if the person cannot or will not pay the fee. However, the operator may take the case to civil court if he or she has a legitimate claim.

This article is meant to be informational only. It is not legal advice and should not be interpreted as such. To learn more about rights and towing scams, discuss concerns with an agent.
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