Officials warn about tow truck price gouging in winter storms

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Missouri Attorney General is asking consumers to be aware of tow truck services price gouging during winter storms.

The agency says it is normal for tow trucks to raise their rates slightly during a winter storm because of the amount of overtime their employees accumulate. It says there are also scammers out there looking to take advantage of stranded drivers.

Officials say to be weary of unlicensed tow truck operators.

"Right at the beginning of a snowstorm we see unscrupulous tow truck drivers that are not even licensed by the Missouri Department of Transportation," said Joseph Bindbeutel of the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

The attorney general says every licensed tow truck should have its license visible on the vehicle.

Experts say even if you believe the tow truck to be legitimate, its never a bad idea to get another estimate.

"With cell phones its very easy to get multiple estimates for a tow and that's always a good idea," said Bindbeutel.

And experts say to know what you are committing to ahead of time. They say it is best to ask for a full estimate up front so that there will be no surprises when you go to pay your bill.

"One of the fundamental tips we can give is to get an estimate up front. Frequently we get consumer complaints where they thought they were getting the fairly standard rates, but when the transaction was complete, there may be a storage fee involved. There may be an extra fee involved for bad weather, cold weather, whatever," said Bindbeutel.

Officials say its always a good idea to check in with your insurance company to find out if they cover the bill for your specific situation.

"Check with your insurance company and make sure you've exhausted all possibilities so that you can claim roadside assistance coverage," said Bindbeutel.

Finally, the attorney general's office asks that you keep all of your documentation. Then, if something does come up down the line, they will be able to investigate the case thoroughly.

"Keep all of your receipts, keep all of the charges, keep all of the documentations. That would be very helpful either to your insurance company or to us in working out any problems," said Bindbeutel.

If you feel you have been a victim to tow truck price gauging you can call the Missouri Attorney General's consumer protection hotline at 1-800-392-8222.

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