Bandit Tow Truck Scam Hits California

Updated Dec 18, 2014

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The Los Angeles Police Department and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) are warning motorists of a growing problem with unauthorized tow truck operators in the LA 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.

“These bandit tow truck drivers are breaking the law by responding without being requested,” said Lieutenant Chris Waters, commanding officer of the Commission Investigation Division.

“They often arrive before our officers and pressure the accident victim to sign a release that allows them to take the damaged vehicle,” she added. “Once that form is signed and the vehicle is towed, getting it back is expensive.”

“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,” said NICB Special Agent Doreen Sanchez.

“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 the exorbitant towing charges, the body shop will add on storage fees while the vehicle sits there as the owner and the insurance company are left in the dark as to where it was taken. All of this is designed to maximize the bill to the consumer.”

The LAPD and NICB recommend motorists never allow an unknown tow truck operator to tow your vehicle. 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)

The LAPD and NICB recommend the following:

  • If you are in a non-injury accident, contact police and your insurance company or motor club to request an authorized tow truck.
  • Your insurance company or road side service should provide the name of the tow truck company and expected arrival time. If a tow truck arrives unexpectedly, a call back to the road side service center should be considered to confirm the tow company is the correct company dispatched.
  • Do not be pressured or intimidated into dealing with a tow truck driver that was not requested.
  • Do not sign any towing release form that does not clearly spell out the charges involved and the exact location where you want the vehicle taken.
  • Use your cell phone to take pictures of any tow truck operator and equipment that shows up on the scene.
  • Take pictures of the damage to the vehicles. Some unscrupulous body shops will enhance the damage once they get the vehicle to inflate the repair charges.
  • If you are injured in the accident, do not be forced into signing a release. Let the police handle the tow.

If you have any towing issues, call the LAPD Tow Complaint Hotline at (323) 680-4TOW.

If you suspect insurance fraud, call the NICB Hotline at 1-800-TEL-NICB.