CHICAGO (CBS) — We thought we had a happy ending on our hands – that a couple who got slapped with thousands in fees by a towing company, would get their car back and fees reduced.
The couple said the tow company got creative by piling on fee after fee – in part, blaming the coronavirus pandemic. The tow company claims they had to clean the car.
The couple showed CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman the bill. She has been exposing abuses by towing companies for years.
More than 50 cars piled up on the icy Kennedy Expressway on April 15.
“I lose control of the car and I just skid and spin,” said Patthamon Morrow.
Then, an Area 1 tow truck driver gave Morrow his card, telling her they work with the Illinois State Police – which is not true.
With her insurance company appearing on the back of the card, it made her believe it was legit.
“They just convinced me that insurance would cover everything,” Morrow said.
That was not true either.
She asked for the damaged car to be towed to a mechanic near her home. That did not happen.
Instead, the tow truck driver took her car to the Area 1 storage lot. And when the Morrows came to get it a day and a half later, the towing company demanded that they pay nearly $2,000.
Under state regulations, accident victims can pay towing fees in cash or by using a major credit card.
The Chicago Police were called, and a police officer who responded tried to help.
“She asked to see like the charges laid out,” said Patthamon’s husband, Chris Morrow. “But they didn’t have it.”
The pre-tow disclosure form, required as a result of our previous investigations, is supposed to inform you about towing fees before you hire a company.
The form they finally got with police help listed $1,950 in charges.
It included fees the Morrows questioned for services at the accident scene and the storage yard, including $190 for cleaning up debris, and a $290 COVID-19 fee.
“He said, ‘You need to clean. You need to clean, clean,’” Patthamon Morrow said.
“Why is he going in the car to clean it? It just doesn’t make sense,” added Chris Morrow. “They’re trying to make money off vulnerable people and this pandemic to just line their pockets.”
They filed complaints with the Illinois Attorney General, the Illinois Commerce Commission – which regulates towing companies – and CBS 2.
“We were the victims of a towing truck scam,” Chris Morrow told Zekman. “I contacted you because the police suggested that I contact you.”
By that time, the storage fees piled up.
“As of today its $2,500 with additional $250 per day,” said Chris Morrow, who added he is not able to pay that.
And the Morrows may lose the car over this.
“I haven’t got the words to express the anger and sadness that I feel,” Chris Morrow said.
Chris called Area 1 towing again after an Illinois Commerce Commission investigator told him the company might be willing to negotiate with him.
At that time, the storage fees had jacked up the total the Morrows supposedly owed to $4,700. The tow company offered to deduct $2,700 leave a remaining balance of $2,000 – the amount he objected to in the first place. And that was their final offer.
“You’re asking me to choose between a car and my family and I can’t make that choice,” Chris Morrow said on the phone with Area 1.
So Zekman contacted Omar Diaz, an owner of Area 1 Towing. Diaz defended the COVID-19 fee, but he conceded some of the Morrows’ charges were very high and others should not have been charged at all.
Then he said Chris Morrow could pick up his car for free. That turned out not to be true.
When Chris Morrow went, he was told, “The other boss said no.”
“I can’t even put it into words,” Chris Morrow said. “I’m shocked.
The Illinois Commerce Commission is still investigating Morrows’ complaint and another similar one.
The company has only been in business for about three months and was already fined $3,000 for illegally towing three cars.