Houston is a bad place to have to have your vehicle towed, according to law enforcement officials and insurance investigators.
There have multiple reports of vehicles being towed and towing services charging victims thousands of dollars to retrieve their cars, the Insurance Council of Texas reported.
One insurance special investigator called Houston “the wild west” when it comes to what some tow services and body shops are charging consumers, the ICT said.
Local and state law enforcement, along with insurance fraud groups, have now started to crack down on these bad actors.
Following a joint investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Houston Police, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, law enforcement arrested four people with USA Collision in Houston on criminal charges alleging that they engaged in organized criminal activity, relating to alleged fraudulent towing charges and body repair.
According to the charges, drivers were deceived into signing documents granting the body shop the right to make repairs that were unnecessary and then billed at an extremely high cost.
Officers discovered one of the suspects was in possession of a cell phone jammer which could be used to prevent cell phone service to drivers seeking help when calling from the body shop.
Insurance investigators say fraudulent towing services and body shops literally hold vehicles for ransom until they get the money they have demanded which is sometimes thousands of dollars.
State investigators say this was not the first time USA Collision had been charged with criminal behavior, but efforts to seize the license of a vehicle storage facility requires months to make an initial hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, warned drivers about having their vehicle towed in Houston.
“While one towing service has been arrested and charged, investigators say there are plenty of others who are taking advantage of drivers whose vehicles have either broken down or been involved in traffic accidents in Houston and Harris County.”
Sam Lynch, senior investigator with the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration which oversees towing companies, offered this advice if stuck in a situation where you might be confronted with a fraudulent tow truck driver in Houston:
- If your vehicle has broken down on a Houston freeway, a tow truck service that is authorized by the city of Houston Safe-Clear program will tow your vehicle for $50 to a safe location off the roadway for repair. You won’t be asked to sign anything.
- If your vehicle must be towed because of a traffic accident in Houston or Harris County, don’t sign anything a tow driver gives you. If you need assistance, seek the help of a Houston or Harris County law enforcement officer.
- If broken down or involved in an accident anywhere in the state and need towed, don’t sign a blank ticket offered by a tow truck driver. Look at all charges listed on a document so that you understand the total cost of the towing.
- To ensure that your vehicle does not wind up in a body shop, ask that your vehicle be taken to a licensed vehicle storage facility.
- To file a complaint against a towing service in Texas, go to: https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/Complaints/ComplaintForm.aspx?strRadiobutton=Vehicle%20Towing
Source: Insurance Council of Texas
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