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Just What Can Be Done To Stop Towing Companies From Charging Exorbitant Fees?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A nearly $20,000 bill for a five-minute ride – a Canadian trucking business we told you about recently is intensifying its court battle with a Chicago tow company.

This comes as consumers contact us with complaints about towing in the city. The CBS 2 Morning Insiders wanted to know why towing prices could be so wildly different depending on the driver.

Who regulates rates?

As CBS 2's Lauren Victory reported, our questions into business practices at Illinois tow yards have not stopped. After visiting VIP Towing in Chicago to discuss pricing, we researched the rates these "safety tow" drivers are legally allowed to bill for rents.

The answer? Whatever they want.

"Why do people think towing is cheap?" one driver said recently.

"My first reaction was - Chicago!" Michael Franz, an attorney at Sanchez Daniels Hoffman, said with a roll of the eyes.

Franz represents Roadstar Trucking, a Canadian company hit with $40,000 in charges from two different towing companies in the past year.

The bill from August was $18,000 to get a truck out of the lot at VIP Towing.

"The evidence so far has shown they didn't even tow my client's vehicle; that someone got in and drove it away and drove 2.5 miles to the storage area," Franz said.

Now, Roadstar is suing VIP for consumer fraud – a legal battle that Franz hopes sends a message.

"The lawsuit brings attention to the fact that the government does need to step in," Franz said.

But Christy George, executive director of the Illinois Commerce Commission, explained that her organization's hands are tied by federal law.

"We are preempted from enacting law relating to price, route, or service," she said.

What the ICC can do is investigate towing companies for compliance issues.

"We can issue citations to them if they're not properly insured," George said.

And citations can be issued for much more. Records we requested from the ICC show hundreds of investigations into safety towing companies since 2017.

Fine after fine has been issued for misrepresentation issues, recordkeeping problems, and failure to disclose estimated costs before hauling a vehicle away.

"Should we do a consumer education campaign?" George said.

George said our inquiries and reports on frustrating situations like Roadstar's inspired the department.

"It's made us think more internally - should we be more aggressive?" George said. "And the answer is probably yes."

Our digging found the top five ICC offenders in Illinois are all in the Chicago area.

Meantime, a judge ruled Roadstar's truck must be released from the tow lot. The next court date is at the end of the month.

A consumer fraud win would saddle the towing company with Roadstar's hefty attorney's fees.

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