Beware of bandit towers

Seven On Your Side
January 12, 2011 8:19:41 PM PST
It's a familiar scene in the last couple of weeks, a car stranded in a snowdrift in need of a tow.

Beware of what experts call "bandit towers" who can hook you up giving you a costly snow job.

These tow troubles are on the rise and have doubled in just the past year.

"If they make you feel uncomfortable there's probably something wrong," said Jeanne Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute.

First, beware rogue towers. To avoid sky high towing and storage fees, insurance companies warn never let a tower who just shows up on the scene take your car.

"You don't want to work with somebody who just sort of stops by," Salvatore said.

If the tow truck operator shows up with the police they have to charge a set fee, if they show up before the police, it's a free for all with potential charges.

You should use endorsed towers. Hire a company either you or the police call. Use operators affiliated with your insurer, a motor club or roadside assistance program.

You should also make sure the name and address on the paperwork matches the name and addresses displayed on the truck.

Check the company's credentials. In New York City, tow operators are required to display name, address and business phone number plus, a telephone complaint number on each side of their trucks.

Every licensed operator must display permit with a license number and expiration date.

Also, never sign a blank invoice. Scam operators can fill in any dollar amount they want later, get prices and a damage report up front in writing, also do not give your insurance information to the tow truck driver.

"You should tell them where you want your car to be taken where you want to go maybe your own repair shop , maybe you even want it towed to your home," Salvatore said.

If your car is towed to storage there are some signs you should look for.

In a AAA endorsed shop they have the storage fee and minimum release cost displayed.

If you don't see that you could be responsible for $1,000 a night just to get your car out.