The Los Angeles Police Department and the National Insurance Crime Bureau are warning motorists of a growing problem with unauthorized tow truck operators in the L.A. area.
These “bandit” tow truck operators monitor police radios and respond to accidents seeking to hook up vehicles and tow them to body shops or storage facilities where they are held hostage until the motorists and their insurance companies pay inflated towing, storage and possibly repair charges to get the vehicle back, according to the organizations.
“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,” NICB Special Agent Doreen Sanchez said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to exorbitant towing charges, the body shop adds on storage fees while the vehicle sit, Sanchez said.
The LAPD is the city’s primary police force. NICB is a Des Plaines, Ill.-based NICB is a nonprofit dedicated to preventing insurance fraud and vehicle theft that is supported by property/casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. The organizations recommend that motorists never allow an unknown tow truck operator to tow their vehicle, offering the catchphrase: “If you did not request it, reject it!”
It is illegal for a tow truck operator to respond to an accident scene without being requested. (Section 22513 (b) California Vehicle Code)
The LAPD also warns motorists that these bandit tow truck operators also work private parking lots, paying attendants for tips on cars to hook up and haul off to unauthorized locations. If the driver shows up on the scene, the tow truck driver will refuse to unhook the vehicle unless they are given cash to release it.
According to California law: Upon request by the owner of the vehicle, a tow driver must immediately and unconditionally release a vehicle that is not yet removed from private property and in transit. (Section 22658 (B) California Vehicle Code)
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