Rogue tow truck operators could trick you into spending hundreds of dollars: Internet Scambusters #630
When your car breaks down or gets damaged in a road accident, the appearance of a tow truck just when you need it most can seem like a miracle.
But if you or the police didn't summon the truck, you could be lined up for a costly scam, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have a new password warning to beat online video hackers.
Let's get started...
10 Ways to Avoid Tow Truck Scams
Imagine your car breaking down and being hauled by a tow truck to a repair shop, and then you get a bill for hundreds of dollars -- maybe even $1,000 -- before work even starts on your vehicle.
It has happened. It's part of a growing scam involving unscrupulous tow truck operators and repair shops.
In fact, according to the most recently available statistics -- covering 2010 -- the incidence of inflated towing bills almost doubled in a single year.
These tow truck mavericks are opportunists who patrol freeways and other major highways and tune in to police alerts to learn about accidents and breakdowns.
They turn up, often much to the relief of the car owner, and offer to take the vehicle in for repair. And before you know what's happened, you've signed an authorization form and get slapped with that huge bill.
Scam tow truck operators are also likely in league with a local repair shop and collect a kickback when they bring in your car.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) these rogue operators may even threaten victims who try to resist their insistence on helping them.
"The overwhelming majority of the nation's towing, storage, and repair shop operators are honest, hard-working businesspeople who provide valuable and critical services to consumers," says the NICB.
"They charge reasonable fees for their work and the NICB wishes them continued success.
"However, there are some in the industry -- as in many industries -- who operate over the ethical and legal lines and although a minority, their misdeeds can cast an unfair shadow over the honest operators as well."
The Bureau offers seven tips to avoid becoming involved with these crooks:
1. If a tow truck operator arrives unsolicited on the scene (often they say they just happened to be passing) don't let him take your vehicle.
2. If police are on the scene, seek and follow their advice on towing.
3. Don't give your insurance details to a towing operator.
4. Also, don't give them any information about anyone who holds a lien on the vehicle.
5. Check tow truck signage against what appears on any documentation they provide.
6. If the truck doesn't have any signage, ask the driver to confirm the identity of the company.
7. If in doubt or if you feel threatened, call the police.
The NICB offers a downloadable accidents fraud and prevention checklist that you should check out.
To their list, we'd add the following suggestions:
8. Make sure you know in advance what your insurance company says it will cover with regard to towing.
9. Get a price quote in writing before you let anyone tow your vehicle.
10. If you're not already a member of an emergency roadside assistance program, consider joining, especially before a long trip or travel in unfamiliar territory.
Sadly this is not the only tow truck scam that's in full swing at the moment.
There have been several instances of dubious operators hooking up a vehicle they claim has been illegally parked and then demanding a fee of $150 to release it.
In other cases, cars have actually been towed and parked near official impoundment yards, where the scammer waits for the owner to turn up and again makes a charge of more than $100.
In some parts of Europe, vacationers have been known to return to their rental vehicles to find the wheels have been clamped by unauthorized traffic patrols who then charge a high fee to unlock the wheel clamps.
In all of these instances, the best action you can take is to call the police.
As NICB says, most operators are legitimate and reliable. By following our tips you'll substantially reduce your risk of becoming victim of a tow truck driver who isn't.
Alert of the Week
A few weeks ago we issued a warning about criminals hacking into all manner of home devices including webcams and baby monitors: Technology Delivers New Hacking and Key Copying Threats.
Now it seems that some hackers think it's a great idea to put the images they're stealing onto a Russian website as a perverted form of entertainment.
If you have a video device that connects to the Internet, make sure you change the default password that came with it. Crooks know them all.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!