by Jade Leung
It’s can’t all be a winter wonderland.
Now that the GTA has been hit with its first snowfall, highway conditions have become precarious and a lot of drivers are proceeding with extra caution.
But that’s not the only thing drivers should be mindful of.
According to a new report this week, insurance fraud relating to automobile accidents has become a serious problem – and it’s costing drivers a whole lot of money.
After getting into a collision, drivers have a high chance of being cheated by tow-truck operators, the Globe and Mail reported. These operators charge a lot to tow a vehicle and often receive under-the-table payments to bring cars to a specific auto-shop, the newspaper reported.
Tow truck scams explained
Under a Toronto municipal bylaw, it costs $188 plus tax to tow from the highway or $166 on the city streets.
Pete Karageorgos, a spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said that’s not always the case.
He said unscrupulous tow truck operators will often charge the municipal rate for the initial tow from the collision scene, park at a plaza and exchange information with the unfortunate driver, then charge a secondary tow fee that is arbitrary.
“I’ve seen invoices of exorbitant amounts for what people would anticipate to be straight-forward services, in terms of just towing from an accident scene to a body shop or police collision reporting center,” he said.
“These bills sometimes can grow upwards of a few hundred dollars to even thousands,” Karageorgos told Humber News.
There have been fraud charges laid in the past involving tow truck operators, body shops and for-profit rehab facilities. They are typically part of a whole fraud network where staged collisions can even occur, he said.
Victims are often disoriented after a crash and become easily swayed by passing tow truck operators to use their services, he said.
“Never be pressured to have your vehicle towed at a collision scene – tow truck operators do not have the authority to tell people to move their vehicles. Only the police can do that,” he advises.
Matyldzia Ferlak, 21, recalls a high-pressure situation that happened after she got into an accident on a Toronto highway.
“One [tow truck driver] wouldn’t get off my ass. He basically didn’t want to leave me alone even though I told him I was getting help,” she said. “I was in shock after the accident and he was putting pressure on me to let him help. He kept insisting and insisting.”
Ferlak said when her car was being towed, they had passed by several auto-shops en route that she was familiar with, but the driver brought her to a particular place where she believed he was getting paid to refer customers.
Doug Nelson, executive director of the Provincial Towing Association Ontario, told Humber News his organization is aiming to have the towing industry regulated.
“We put a bill in the legislature in 2008 and again in 2010 to regulate the industry. Right now there are no standards and regulations and it’s just a free-for-all,” he said.
The towing association is trying to establish a system to have tow companies set a fair rate that consumers would be aware of before getting charged, Nelson said. He added that tow companies “would have to put in an application for that license,” where the pricing would be reviewed, and if it’s outside the industry average, towing companies would have to provide reasonable justification.
“I’m pleased [to say] that in mid-December, we will be starting negotiations to get that regulation process started,” he said of the talks involving the Ministry of Consumer Services.
In the meantime, Nelson recommends drivers,”ask for a price and ask for it in writing.”
“If they won’t give it to them in writing, I’d be looking for a different company to tow the vehicle,” he said.