Woman Says She Was Victim of ‘Predatory Tow’ Practices

Gladys Bermudez was on the 605 Freeway when a car sideswiped her. A tow-truck driver told Bermudez that he worked with her insurance company.

Within minutes he hooked up her car and hauled it away.

"In that shock of the moment that it just happened, he told me, 'You're not in a good spot. You're going to get hit again,'" Bermudez said.

But Bermudez found out that tow company didn't work with her insurance company. It did tow her car to a shop 20 miles away. The cost for the tow was nearly $1,000.

"It's been emotionally distressful. I feel helpless," Bermudez said. "It still felt like my car was stolen and was being held hostage."

Ja Felin was T-boned at a Wilshire Boulevard intersection.

A tow-truck driver said her insurance company called. But that wasn't true.

"He's like a predator who preys on people who are in horrible, unfortunate situations," Felin said. "They're already victims and he's victimizing them again."

Los Angeles police call what happened to these drivers predatory towing. And it's illegal in LA.

They say tow companies listen for accidents on police scanners and pounce.

The NBC4 I-Team was with the LAPD who staged an accident, then put it out on scanners.

One tow truck checked out the scene, but then left. Police say some companies know they are watching.

Mike Feuer, the LA City Attorney, is watching too.

His office has filed criminal charges against SoCal Inter City Tow, the company that picked up Felin's car. It was the same company, police said, that were seen checking out the fake accident during the police ride-along.

A court date is pending. Feuer's office says SoCal Inter City Tow has not yet responded to the charges. The company did not respond to NBC4 calls for comment.

"I don't know how someone can do that as their job and live day to day and think everything is OK," Felin said.

The predatory tows are only one part of the story. The other conspirator is the body shop where the cars are towed.

They sometimes charge drivers outrageous, even illegal fees to get their cars back, officials said.

Bermudez said they charged her $260 because they disconnected her battery.

Her bill escalated to $3,100 in eight days. The body shop Autopro charged fees that included tear down for taking off her front bumper and other work the shop said it performed.

Bermudez says she didn't authorize any of it.

"The law is very clear that no work shall be done and no charges shall accrue before authorization to proceed is obtained from the customer," Mathew Gibson, an investigator for the Bureau of Automotive Repair, the agency that regulates body shops.

Gibson, who has not investigated Bermudez' case, said if there's a facility that's engaging in predatory business practices, then his agency seeks to take administrative action to revoke or suspend that registration.

"I was willing to give as much as I could," Bermudez said. "But this is too much."

When the I-Team went with Bermudez to get her car back, Autopro released it, charging her nothing.

The shop declined repeated requests for an interview.

"They're taking advantage of people who are hard working, that are just trying to get by," Bermudez said. "It's not fair. I don't want this to happen to anyone else."

Here's what you need to know if you are caught in a similar situation:

When a tow truck shows up, get the name of the company and how much they are going to charge. By law they have to tell you and that number cannot change. It's best to get this in writing. At the body shop, it can only charge for storage fees. Anything else requires your approval.

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