‘Bandit’ Tow-Truck Operators Seen Holding L.A. Vehicles Hostage

Rogue tow-truck operators in the Los Angeles area are cheating insurers by taking cars to body shops or storage facilities that demand inflated fees to release vehicles to their owners, an industry group said.

“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,” Doreen Sanchez, a special agent for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said today in a statement.

Truck operators are monitoring law-enforcement radio to track motor-vehicle accidents and, in some cases, arrive before police, according to the statement. It’s against the law for the trucks to respond without being requested, Lt. Chris Waters of the Los Angeles Police Commission said in the statement.

Drivers should contact their insurers or motor clubs to arrange for tows after non-injury collisions, according the NICB. The Des Plaines, Illinois-based bureau, which works to prevent insurance fraud, also advises accident victims to avoid pressure to sign contracts with unauthorized tow-truck operators. Motorists can use smartphones to photograph damage to their cars and any tow trucks that arrive on the scene.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and the Geico business at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. are the largest U.S. car insurers.

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