“Know Before You Tow” Campaign Comes to Chicago

Frank Scafidi

NICB Kicks Off “Know Before You Tow” Campaign in Chicago

Effort Aimed at Educating Consumers on Vehicle Towing and Storage Issues

DES PLAINES, Ill., Oct. 17, 2011 — The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has embarked on an eight-week billboard campaign aimed at educating consumers about what they should know before they need towing and storage services. NICB sponsored a similar program in Houston, Texas earlier this year.

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. 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.

Chicago was chosen for this program due to the volume of consumer complaints arising from contact with rogue towing and storage operators. During “Operation Tow Scam,” a long-term FBI investigation of these scams, even some Chicago police officers were arrested and convicted for taking part in these schemes.

Towing and storage facilities are regulated to varying degrees around the nation, but mostly it is a state and local concern. Although Illinois has recently enacted legislation that helps protect consumers, problems still exist with those few who persist in operating unethically or outside the law.

Consumers have a responsibility in this process as well. Know your insurance coverage and how your policy will perform in the event you require towing, storage and/or repair services. NICB recommends that you review your auto coverage during every policy renewal or purchase and know what your policy provides. NICB is aware of dozens of cases in the Chicago area where motorists have been charged significant towing and storage fees that could have been averted with some towing savvy.

If after an accident or breakdown your vehicle cannot be driven, you will be anxious to have a towing company move your vehicle to a repair facility or other location. In these stressful situations, you may inadvertently give permission to a towing company to move your vehicle finding out much later that their fees are far beyond what your policy will cover. By “giving permission,” you have unknowingly agreed to the fees and may be personally responsible for paying them. These fees can be hundreds of dollars.

NICB suggests the following to help prevent you from becoming involved in a costly towing experience:

  • Never give permission to a tow truck operator who arrives unsolicited to take your vehicle.
  • If law enforcement has responded to the scene, follow their towing guidance. Do not provide tow truck operators with your insurance information.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with personal lien holder information.
  • Determine that the tow truck signage is identical to what appears on any documentation the tow truck operator provides (they may say they “work with” your insurance company).
  • If the tow truck does not display signage identifying the name of the tow company, ask for company identification.
  • Call your insurance company for towing options or recommendations.
  • If a tow operator’s legitimacy is in doubt, call the police.

While our focus is to prevent insurance fraud, NICB is also concerned with your personal safety. There have been some instances around the country where tow operators have become belligerent with accident victims who challenge or question their intentions. A legitimate tow operator will satisfy your concerns; an illegitimate one will not.

These towing tips are among many included in a downloadable accident fraud and prevention checklist developed by the NICB. It also features tips to assist drivers who are involved in vehicle accidents. This document was created to offer general consumer advice with respect to towing and storage issues occurring around the nation. However, local laws are always controlling and consumers are reminded to follow local law enforcement guidance. The checklist is available at: www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/checklists/checklists.

You are encouraged to visit our Web site and obtain a copy of the checklist. Take the time now to review and become familiar with your insurance policies and your local reporting responsibilities if you are involved in a vehicle accident.

Anyone with information concerning vehicle theft or insurance fraud can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or by visiting our web site at www.nicb.org.

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is the nation’s leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness. The NICB is supported by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote over $317 billion in insurance premiums in 2010, or approximately 80 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance. That includes more than 93 percent ($151 billion) of the nation’s personal auto insurance. To learn more visit www.nicb.org.