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“Bandit” Tow Truck Scams Spurs Warning from Police Departments

Car being towed by a car crane on an empty road.

Your car has just broken down and you’re stranded by the side of the road. If you’re one of the millions of Americans who belong to an automobile club like the AAA, you can always call for assistance.

But, whether you are or not, if a tow truck pops up out of the blue, don’t automatically think it’s your lucky day. The same goes following an accident that has disabled your vehicle.


Prey on vulnerable and unsuspecting motorists

In fact, it could be you’re about to become the victim of what is known as a “bandit” tow truck scam. These tow truck operators prey on vulnerable and unsuspecting motorists by charging ridiculously inflated prices for their help – after they render it. You may have no choice but to pay their fee under the threat of having your vehicle hauled away unless you fork over payment.


The problem has grown to the point that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) teamed up in 2014 with a joint directive to warn drivers about the serious issue in certain communities in and around Los Angeles.


“Towing charges often skyrocket”

According to the NCIB and LAPD press release, “Towing charges, which should amount to a few hundred dollars, often skyrocket to a few thousand dollars once the bandit tow truck operator hauls the vehicle away from the accident scene.” In addition, NICB Special Agent Doreen Sanchez says, “The drivers may say they will take the vehicle to a location of the owner’s choice, but they then take it to an undisclosed body shop that is paying them a kickback.


Under California law it is illegal for a tow truck operator to respond to an accident scene without being requested. (Section 22513 (b) California Vehicle Code). Both agencies advise motorists to never allow an unknown tow truck operator to tow your vehicle. “If you did not request it, reject it!”


Tow truck appearing out of nowhere

You should also be leery of a tow truck appearing out of nowhere after your vehicle becomes disabled. If you’ve already called for help, send them away until the tow truck you requested arrives.


Furthermore, below are some helpful tips from the NCIB to keep you from becoming the next victim of a “bandit” tow truck operator.


  • If you have roadside assistance through an automobile club or your auto insurance company, call their toll-free number for help. Do not accept help from an unrequested tow truck.
  • If you’re involved in an accident and your vehicle is disabled, contact police and your auto insurance company and have them request an authorized tow truck so you know where your vehicle will be taken.
  • If you’re unsure about whether the tow truck is legitimate, call back to the roadside service center to confirm the identity of the tow company dispatched. And, check the name on the truck to be sure it matches.
  • If you’re asked to fill out a towing release form, don’t sign it unless it clearly spells out the exact location where you want your vehicle taken and all charges involved.
  • If you’re still uncomfortable about the tow, take pictures of the truck to include the company name.
  • If you suspect fraud, or if the bandit tow truck driver won’t leave after you request him to do so, call the police immediately.


Trust your instincts

While the vast majority of tow truck drivers are hard-working and play by the rules, there are some who are only looking to rip you off. Trust your instincts and consult with your agent or car insurance company about adding roadside service to your policy.

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