The National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Los Angeles Police Department have issued a warning to the public regarding “bandit” tow truck operators.

The scam works as follows: bandit tow truck drivers scan police radio chatter for accidents and respond to the scene before law enforcement. These tow truck operators pressure accident victims into signing releases allowing the tow operator to remove their vehicle to a predetermined yard. Instead of the usual bill of a few hundred dollars, victims find themselves faced with bills in the thousands of dollars in tow charges and bogus storage fees. The victim and insurance companies are often in the dark as to the location of the vehicle and tracking it down costs further time and money.

These bandit tow operators work in conjunction with private parking lots often paying parking attendants and lot owners kickbacks for tips about which cars to tow.

According to Section 22513 (b) of the California Vehicle Code, it is illegal for a tow truck operator to respond to the scene of an accident without being requested. Section 22658 (B) of the California Vehicle Code further states that upon the request of a vehicle owner, a tow operator must immediately and unconditionally release a vehicle that has not yet been removed from private property and in transit.