Towing oversight legislation needed to protect consumers from wreck chasers

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Automobile accidents are a harrowing experience. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, a driver may be dealing with missing work or an appointment, distressed children, potential liability issues and traffic violations, other motorists trying to circumvent the wreck, and even injuries. This high-stress situation creates the perfect opportunity for an unscrupulous towing company take advantage of a consumer.

This often comes in the form of overzealous solicitation, excessive fees, and shady business practices that delay or make it difficult for owners to retrieve their vehicles.

Over the past few years, responding to these rogue practices, there has been an uptick in towing-reform legislation by states and municipalities, such as Arizona, California, and Missouri. In July 2018, the National Council of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) adopted model towing legislation that included a number of consumer protections:

Licensing or registration: State or municipal licensing of towers can help authorities know who is towing vehicles, set minimum standards, and hold bad actors accountable.

Restricting solicitation at accident scenes: Often, dishonest towers will listen to police scanners and attempt to swoop onto an accident scene without being called. Motorists assume law enforcement called the tower and consent to the tow without the benefit of consulting a tow rotation list or their insurer.

Requiring a written estimate of charges prior to towing: Requiring towers to provide, prior to towing, a written estimate is among the best protections government can extend to consumers. Without a written estimate, some towers have been known to attempt to charge motorists $1,000 for a few-mile tow and hold the car hostage (with incurring storage fees) until it is paid.

Fair fees: Without setting towing charges, legislators should require fees be rational and prohibit the add-on of vague fees, such as transfer, gasoline, gate fees, or excessive administrative fees.

Reasonable access: Towers should be required to store towed vehicles at a conspicuous, known location, and consumers should have the right to recover, inspect, or retrieve personal items from their vehicle during normal business hours. Mandating reasonable access helps prevent towers from racking-up storage fees by limiting access.

Tim Lynch, Senior Director of Government Affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) said NCOIL’s towing model was the culmination of a two-year effort among insurance companies and their trade groups, NICB, state lawmakers, and towing interests. “Robust laws combined with swift enforcement are needed to make these protections truly meaningful,” Lynch said.

Jack Quinn, NICB Senior Special Agent and former Philadelphia police officer has been on the scene of hundreds of accidents. He says he has seen a much-improved towing climate since Philadelphia adopted in 2017 a towing ordinance that established a tow rotation list. “The tow list has resulted in a reduction of tow-abuse, and provides consumers peace of mind,” Quinn says.

Elected officials or staff interested in strengthening their consumer protections related to accident scene tows should contact NICB’s government affairs department at GovernmentAffairs@nicb.org or 800-447-6282.

NICB Disappointed by Gov. Brown’s Veto

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Legislation Would Have Allowed Car Rental Companies to More Quickly Report Vehicle Theft

DES PLAINES, Ill., Sept. 17, 2018 — The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is expressing disappointment in Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s August 27 veto of Assembly Bill 2169. Assembly Bill 2169 reduces the time from five days to 48 hours, following the expiration of the rental period, before a vehicle rental company may report a vehicle stolen.

In his veto message, Governor Brown cites increased use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and unnamed “other solutions” as better approaches.

While GPS technology certainly is one tool in curbing automobile theft, it is an exponentially useless tool if California car rental companies cannot report the vehicle stolen. Worse, criminals are becoming more skilled in locating and disabling GPS technology.

“Every passing day a car rental company cannot report their vehicle stolen, the likelihood of that vehicle being recovered decreases,” says Joseph H. Wehrle, Jr., NICB President and Chief Executive Officer. “Car rental companies can watch, in real time, their stolen vehicle taken over the U.S.-Mexico border with little recourse.”

According to NICB’s annual Hot Spots vehicle theft report, five of the top 10 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), adjusted for population, for auto theft are located in California: Redding (4), Bakersfield (6), Modesto (7), Stockton-Lodi (8), and Yuba City (9).

Assembly Bill 2169 passed both California legislative chambers with only one dissenting vote. The NICB applauds sponsor Assemblyman Randy Voepel and the California legislature for taking a step in the right direction toward reducing California auto theft, and looks forward to the legislation being reintroduced.

To access the NICB’s Hot Spots Vehicle Theft Report, please visit: nicb.org/news

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or submitting a form on our website. Or, download the NICB Fraud Tips app on your iPhone or Android device.

Focusing on Fraud in South Carolina

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Organized fraud rings are active in South Carolina, taking advantage of the state’s lack of resources to investigate and prosecute insurance fraud.That was the message that some 150 law enforcement personnel, insurance industry representatives and elected officials heard at the annual insurance fraud summit in Greenville this week.

The summit, organized by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and the South Carolina Insurance News Service (SCINS), focused on the need for additional resources and legislative remedies to fight the growing insurance crime problem in the state. To learn more, watch this video.

Citing NICB statistics that show South Carolina ranked seventh in the nation in suspected staged accidents, Attorney General Alan Wilson urged the passage of HB 4339 to help stem the problem.

“Fraud and crime, like water, follow the path of least resistance,” said Wilson. ”I believe it is incumbent on us this year as we move forward to try to direct some more resources and legislation toward combatting insurance fraud.”

South Carolina currently allocates $200,000 a year in funds for investigation and prosecution of insurance fraud, which is the lowest of all 50 states.

NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle told the audience that in addition to staged accidents, other fraud issues that are plaguing the state include suspect medical clinics and pill mills, as well as windshield glass repair fraud.

“The proceeds that organized criminal rings haul in from insurance fraud often go to fund other criminal activities,” said Wehrle. “As we’ve seen in other states where we’ve held these summits in recent years, a few changes in the law and increased support for investigation and prosecution of these crimes sends a message to the criminals that this is no longer a place to do business.”

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or submitting a form on our website. Or, download the NICB Fraud Tips app on your iPhone or Android device.

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 $395 billion in insurance premiums in 2014, or more than 78 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance. That includes more than 93 percent ($176 billion) of the nation’s personal auto insurance. To learn more visit www.nicb.org.