A workshop on towing fraud at this week’s annual conference of the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority serves as a reminder that we all need to be vigilant to potential schemes that can cause big headaches and empty our wallets.
First the disclaimer — most tow-truck operators are decent, hardworking folks trying to make an honest dollar. So are the body shops that received damaged vehicles.
But scams are a big-dollar business [something missing here] for bandit towing firms — and the body shops. Violence can flare up over lucrative territory in Philadelphia, the workshop presenters noted. Shouting matches, fist fights and evens shots fired come with territorial disputes.
Dishonest towing firms pounce on vehicles at the crash scenes. They quickly show up at crash scenes and try to reassuringly sweet-talk often traumatized drivers into having their car towed to ZWZ body shop. The towing firm may be operating in cahoots with the body shop to make outrageously inflated repair and towing claims against you and your policy.
Bandit towing firms also grab parked cars and lug them away to a commercial storage yard somewhere. Some vehicles were illegally parked, and others perfectly legal.
Either way, the towing firm piles on dubious fees— parking lot fees, security fees, winching and towing, and so forth. A simple tow down the street can add up to hundreds of suspicious dollars. The unfortunate drivers may have to pay out of pocket just to get their car back, or the fee may be tacked onto their auto policy if it was in an insured crash.
A banged up car may be hauled to a body shop that pays a kickback for the repair business. The body shop may enhance the damage to illicitly tack on thousands of dollars in repairs charged to your auto policy.
A whack with a hammer or baseball bat can add a nice-sized dent to your insurance bill, and so can ramming a forklift into the bumper. Body shops might even have intimidating “escorts” to tail insurer damage estimators around the shop or yard to try and distract them from spotting other fake damage to vehicles. A body shop might also try to bribe drivers into going along with inflated damage claims.
Drivers do have options, the Coalition is alerting the public.
It’s hard to prevent your vehicle from being illegally towed while you’re innocently shopping somewhere. But get a police report on record, and know your local laws about towing. Dispute any fees that seem unwarranted.
Avoid towing firms that miraculously show up at the crash scene. Especially, turn down operators that try to pressure you into hauling your vehicle away.
See if you have roadside service through your carmaker or other service.
Get a detailed invoice and damage assessment before your vehicle is taken, and know exactly where your car is going. Also, avoid giving out too much insurance-policy information. Scammers could use that to make more illicit damage claims.
Be sure to get the towing firm’s name address and phone number before it takes your vehicle away.
And use your cell camera to photograph the damage, position of the vehicles and other information. This can refute an inflated damage claim by a crooked body shop.
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.