When your vehicle is broken down in the middle of nowhere, the appearance of a tow truck is like water in the middle of the desert. Oh, such relief! But many scammers will take advantage of your desperation, and you may end up the victim of a towing scam. That could end up costing you a lot of money!

Below, we’ve got everything you need to know about how to recognize and avoid a towing scam:

Recognizing Bandit Tow Trucks – A “bandit tow truck” is the name given to dishonest towers, those who take advantage of helpless car owners to overcharge for their services. If you see a tow truck just “happen” to show up in the middle of nowhere, you’d do well to be leery of their services. The only tow truck you can be sure to trust is the one sent out by your insurance company.

To ensure that you’re getting a legitimate service—one that’s not a scam that will cost you a fortune—do the following things:

  1. Wait until your tower gets there. Your insurance company will contact a tow truck to bring your vehicle to the right lot or body shop. Wait until that authorized tow truck arrives, even if it means you have to wait a bit longer.
  2. Know your insurance policy. Make sure you understand exactly what’s covered by your insurance. Talk with your insurance agent to find out what your coverage is, what roadside assistance you receive, how towing is handled by the insurance company, and what exactly is covered.
  3. See it in writing. Always make sure to see a printed invoice before allowing your vehicle to be towed. The invoice should cover not just the towing fee, but any other service charges included. The printed price or invoice is your legal ammunition in case they decide to scam you.
  4. Know your destination. Always know where your car is being towed to! Check with your insurance before agreeing to have your vehicle towed anywhere.
  5. Limit your information. The tow truck doesn’t need your personal information—they simply need your name and the authorization from your insurance company to tow the vehicle. Don’t give out any more information!
  6. Be ready to call the cops.  If you feel the tow truck is scamming you, don’t hesitate to call the cops. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

If you want to be 100% certain you’re not going to fall prey to a towing scam, you may want to consider a roadside assistance service (if it’s not included in your vehicle insurance). Roadside assistance will provide you with the help you need no matter what car trouble or accident you suffer.