Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Recent bust signals hope in fight against tow corruption

Earlier this month, four people connected to an auto body shop and tow company in Texas were arrested following a raid conducted by the Houston Police Department.

According to a story by the Houston Chronicle, Ricardo Gonzalez, 41; Andres Vasquez, 38; Ruben Barhona Rendon, 26; and Brenda Reyes Awawdeh, 34, were all charged for engaging in organized criminal activity. They were accused of using the business USA Auto Collision to charge motorists unnecessary repairs and fees.

USA Auto Collision was designated as a Safe Clear provider, meaning that the business was on the police’s list of the tow companies to call when there was an accident, but could charge no more than $155.50. According to the allegations, however, members of the business deceived motorists into signing documents that authorized the body shop to perform repairs and charge additional fees.

The reports allege that USA Auto Collision billed insurance companies for overpriced and unnecessary repairs. A specific example alleges that the business charged more than $200 for “transfer fees” to move the vehicle between the storage lot and the repair shop, which were within a few feet of each other.

To top it off, the company is accused of using an electronic communication jamming device to prevent customers from using their cellphones to call the police or to check with an insurance agent.

While these instances involved vehicles of the four-wheeled variety, truck drivers certainly are no stranger to tow companies who try to take advantage of insurance companies through third-party tows.

Since the drivers involved in accidents have no say in which business performs the service and many of these towing companies seem to believe insurance money is no different than the currency used in Monopoly, it is easy to see how the bills can get out of hand fast.

In a recent case in West Virginia, a tow business charged a trucking company $185,894.91. The bill included numerous charges that exceeded the allowable rate by up to $75 per hour. One of the most egregious charges was $1,450 for a saw rental when the Public Service Commission of West Virginia’s allowable rate for the service was a flat fee of $20.

A case in Arkansas revealed that an Arkansas towing company attempted to charge a truck driver for the use of two wreckers when trooper dash-cam footage showed that only one wrecker was used.

In the two above cases, complaints were filed and there have been recommendations to reimburse either some or all of the charges.

Sadly though, many of these overcharged towing bills aren’t caught and can drive owner-operators out of business. The deceitful practice also gives a bad name to the many members of the towing industry who are trying to do nothing more than make an honest living.

It is great news that it appears USA Auto Collision will no longer be able to prey on car and pickup drivers in the Houston area. Hopefully, the same future awaits the many tow companies who are ready to feast on the next truck driver who gets in an accident.