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Chicago City Council committee discusses solutions to rogue towing company crisis

Chicago City Council committee plans action against rogue towing companies
Chicago City Council committee plans action against rogue towing companies 02:44

CHICAGO (CBS) -- CBS 2 has reported on countless rogue tow truck victims in the city of Chicago – tow "companies" that show up to the scene of a crash, and then hold cars hostage for exorbitant fees.

The Chicago City Council has now taken action. Members of the City Council Public Safety Committee met Tuesday to discuss a possible solution to the ongoing issue – to try to stop rogue towers from making thousands off drivers who thought they were signing their car away to someone they could trust.

"As tow trucks are driving around the city chasing accidents, they're also putting people's lives in danger," said Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th).

Alderpeople questioned leaders from the Chicago Police Department, the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, and the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

"I've followed your reporting on this issue," Villegas told CSB 2. "I've seen and spoken directly to residents and constituents in the city that have been impacted by this."

The goal is to find out what it would take to curb tow truck operators that are unlicensed in the City of Chicago, but operating anyway – many times because they are able to apply for, and receive, a license from the Illinois Commerce Commission. This happens no matter how many times the companies are shut down, or found to be price-gouging customers.

"I think that CPD needs to play a bigger role," Villegas said, "because I think that when there's an accident that requires a tow, CPD or OEMC is notified. And so at that point, I think that they need to make sure that since Streets and Sanitation has vendors, and it takes 30 minutes to get to the site, that they should stay there and make sure that the site is taken care of."

CBS 2 spoke with yet another victim of this type of scam. Vassilena Dineva got into an accident that left her car undrivable – the front wheel would not move.

"I felt so unprotected, I was so desperate to get some help, that I felt that nobody was willing to help," said Dineva.

A tow truck driver showed up. She said they claimed to be from her insurance company, and then held her car hostage for $8,000.

"I never second-guessed it because he said, 'I am contracted with Allstate, and I'm here to pick up your vehicle,'" said Dineva. So I was, like, after that, thinking about it, and like—how did he know? Was it just a lucky guess?"

Her insurance company eventually paid $4,000.

 "I got a call from the real tow truck driver, and he said, 'Where are you?'" said Dineva, "and I was very surprised. I said, 'What do you mean where I am?'"

When Dineva tried to report to Chicago Police what had happened, they cited a receipt that she had signed in good faith with what turned out to be the rogue company.

"I did sign the note, but she lied to me," Dineva said. "It was under false pretense."

Chicago City Council committee plans crackdown on rogue towing companies 02:28

Victims like Dineva continue to be victimized. Her car was towed by Perfect Time Towing of Oak Lawn.

The owner of Perfect Time Towing is Mikel Warren, whom CBS 2 has covered previously. He was also the owner of other now-dissolved tow companies.

CBS 2 has tried repeatedly to reach Warren, but can never get a hold of him.

The Illinois Commerce Commission grants those licenses for each new company.

In Chicago, Villegas said: "We're talking about this. But we need to codify it in a manner so there's a standard procedure when we respond to accidents."

The City of Chicago requires a license separate from the one the Illinois Commerce Commission grants. If a tow truck is licensed in the City of Chicago, it will have a placard on the side of the truck saying so.

Experts said looking out for such a placard is one way to protect oneself from being in a similar situation.

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