Security and Safety

Don’t Fall Victim to Towing Scams

By Casey Kelly-Barton 9.7.16

Accidents and breakdowns aren’t the only hazards on Texas roads. Towing and storage scammers recently bilked Houston-area drivers out of thousands of dollars by making them sign deceptive release forms that put them on the hook for exorbitant storage and repair fees. The state shut down those companies, but drivers across Texas should watch out for copycats. The Insurance Council of Texas reports that one insurance special investigator even called the Houston towing and body shop industry “the wild west.” We asked Mark Mitchell, Texas Farm Bureau Insurance’s state physical damage manager, how to avoid towing rip-offs.

Go with a company you know

Find a reputable towing company before you need one. If you’re in a crash, “the police will typically dispatch a wrecker,” Mitchell says, “but if you have a preference you should advise the officer.”

Sign your way or no way

Mitchell recommends that you think twice before signing anything from the wrecker driver. If it’s fraud, “[you] will be told that the form is so you can get your personal items or so your insurance company can inspect, when it actually says it is an authorization to tear down, repair, or move the vehicle.” If you sign anything at all, “it should only be the authorization to tow. Write under your name that it is only to release to the insurance company. Make sure all the charges are filled in, and don’t sign anything that shows a different name on the form.”

Stick with your choices

Have your vehicle towed to your preferred repair shop, your home, or a licensed vehicle storage facility — nowhere else. “If you don’t know where you want to get the vehicle repaired, make no decision until you speak with your claim adjuster,” Mitchell says.

Consult the police and your adjuster

If you’re in an accident and the wrecker driver pressures you to sign, Mitchell recommends that you “advise the police officer and get them involved on the scene.” Contact your adjuster right away if you’re charged suspicious or unexpected repair or storage fees. You can also report suspected towing fraud to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

It’s frustrating — and costly — enough to break down or get into a car accident, let alone getting duped by a scammer while you’re stranded. Heed Mitchell’s advice, and if you need to file a claim, call Texas Farm Bureau Insurance’s 24-hour claims hotline at 800.266.5458.